CANYON – The West Texas A&M women’s soccer team heads into the 2014 fall season looking to top its Lone Star Conference Tournament Finals appearance from a year ago. The Lady Buffs, who lead the league in total LSC Championships with six, return to the pitch with a wealth of experience as eight total starters are featured on this year’s roster.
WT finished off 2013 with a 6-8-6 record but hit its stride at the right time. The Lady Buffs grabbed victories in its final two regular season LSC games on the road to earn their 17th LSC Tournament appearance. They went on to beat No. 1 seed and host Angelo State in the semi-finals, 1-0, before falling to Midwestern State in a championship shootout, barely missing out on a 10th appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“Last year we definitely had some struggles on the field, especially early on,” stated head coach Chad Webb. “But I thought we were able to make some positive adjustments down the stretch towards the end of conference play. I think advancing through the tournament was a great experience for those young girls and there are several things we can build on going into this season.”
Two weeks ago, the Lady Buffs were selected third in the LSC Preseason Poll with 61 total votes. MSU topped the list with six first-place votes and 80 total followed by ASU with seven first-place votes and 72 overall. Rounding out the list were Texas A&M-Commerce, Texas Woman’s, and Eastern New Mexico, respectively. Additionally, senior defender Rhea Belgrave was tabbed LSC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. The Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, native, earned the identical regular season honor in 2013 as a junior.
Webb begins his fifth season as the head coach of the Lady Buff soccer team after becoming only the second head women’s soccer coach in program history on January 13, 2010. Webb was previously an assistant to Butch Lauffer for 14 seasons, after a tremendous four year career as a Buffalo in the mid 90’s. He is 36-32-11 in his four seasons at the helm of the Lady Buffs. He was named both LSC Coach of the Year and Panhandle Sports Soccer Coach of the Year in 2012.
“We are aware of the challenges in this conference going forward,” added Webb. “There are some very good teams in the league. Midwestern and Angelo should be strong again and we expect to improve as well. But we know that preseason rankings are for the preseason. We have to be able to dictate how they finish.”
The Lady Buffs will play 18 matches over the course of the regular season with eight being held on their home turf at The Pitch on campus at the Buffalo Sports Park in Canyon. The Lady Buffs will play four of the six teams who advanced to the 2013 NCAA Tournament from the South Central Region (Colorado School of Mines, Metro State, MSU, and TAMUC) as well as two teams currently represented in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)/Continental Tire NCAA Division II Women’s National Preseason Rankings (No. 9 CSM and No. 16 Metro State).
WT will open the regular season with a tough three-game road test beginning with a weekend trip to Colorado. The Lady Buffs will open play on Sept. 4 at Metro State. The fifth-seeded Roadrunners advanced to the Sweet 16 last season before falling to No. 3 St. Edwards. The Lady Buffs are 14-2-2 all-time in season openers while winning six straight through the 2011 season.
Two days later the Lady Buffs will face off with Colorado Mines. The Orediggers were the No. 1 seed in last year's tournament but were eliminated by Metro State in their opening game. WT fell to Metro State, 0-2, and Colorado Mines, 0-3, in its season-opening tournament in Canyon last fall. The Lady Buffs will complete their short road swing at New Mexico Highlands on Sept. 11.
Texas-Permian Basin will be the opponent for WT's 2014 home opener on Sept. 13. The Lady Buffs defeated the Falcons in Odessa last season by a score of 2-0 with both goals being tallied by returning senior Jessie Thomas. WT will then take a short trip to Plainview, Texas to compete against Wayland Baptist on Sept. 18.
The Lady Buffs will host Dallas Baptist on Sept. 20 and travel to Southwestern Oklahoma State on Sept. 23 before opening LSC play. DBU defeated WT, 1-0, in overtime in Dallas while the Lady Buffs played to a tie with SWOSU, 1-1, at home in 2013.
WT will begin conference competition with a weekend road trip against TWU and TAMUC on Sept. 26 & 28. Two home matches will follow against ENMU on Oct. 3 and the final non-conference opponent, Southern Nazarene, on Oct. 6.
The four-game homestand will finish with matches against ASU and MSU on Oct. 10 & 12. The Lady Buffs will then close out their road contests with three-straight matches against ENMU (Oct. 17), MSU (Oct. 24) and ASU (Oct. 26). WT will complete the regular season schedule with back-to-back home battles with TAMUC and TWU on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2.
The Lady Buffs are returning eight consistent starters this season and should be very strong once again on the backline. There they will be led by Belgrave, who along with newcomer sophomore Karyn Forbes, just returned from Trinidad & Tobago where they led their national team to a CFU Caribbean Cup Championship. With that title in hand, both will compete with T&T later this fall in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, the last round of qualifying before the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Belgrave has already had an outstanding career thus far in her two seasons with WT. In 2013, Belgrave was titled LSC Defensive Player of the Year in addition to being named NSCAA Second-Team All-Region, Daktronics Second-Team All-Region, LSC All-Conference and LSC All-Tournament. She logged 1,928 minutes on the pitch, the most of any Lady Buff, started 19 of 20 matches, manufactured 22 shots, nine of which were on-goal, and anchored a defensive line that produced eight shutouts.
Offensively, WT will look to improve on scoring as they found the net just 15 times in 2013. Look out for Thomas again in that area. Eight of the Lady Buffs’ goals came off the foot of Thomas a year ago while she also added one assist. In 2013, Thomas was named Dakronics First-Team All-Region and to the LSC All-Tournament Team while she was also named LSC Offensive Player of the Week once.
“Jessie and Rhea are going to be invaluable this season for our team,” Webb noted. “Both have stepped up for us time and time again in their careers and are undoubtedly leaders on their respective sides of the ball. I expect them to perform the same this season on the field.”
A strong trio of juniors will also provide great experience for WT this season. Haley Girard, Emily Krenek, and Dominique Premac each started at least 17 of 20 matches and logged over 1,400 last season. Girard contributed two assists last year and has the ability to produce at both midfield and on the defensive end. Krenek had the second most points on the team with six while Premac tallied two goals on the season. Both were named Dakronics Second-Team All-Region in 2013.
Three sophomores earned significant playing time in their first season last fall. McKylie Calligan started all 20 games and was an LSC Second-Team All-Conference selection. Marissa Naab and Kaitlin Steele both held the backline the majority of the year combining for 29 starts and over 2,800 minutes.
“I think it’s really going to be tough for teams to create scoring chances with all these girls returning on the defensive end,” said Webb. “They were a huge part of our team last year. If we don’t give up goals then we’ll always have a chance to come out on top.”
The most significant change for the team this season will be in goal. The Lady Buffs lose Yvette Bedoy, who now stands as the program’s career leader in saves with 306. Last season, Bedoy played every minute of every game between the pipes and had a .93 GAA with eight shutouts. Looking to replace her will be freshmen Ashley Avila, McKynzie Zick, or sophomore transfer Nicole Kemper.
The Lady Buffs have many new additions to the active roster in 2014, including 10 true freshmen, four sophomore transfers, and two redshirt freshmen, defender Sara Hubble and forward Katelyn Taschler, who sat out last year due to injury.
“It’s still difficult to determine who among the newcomers are going to make the biggest impact for us at this point in time,” added Webb. “Brady Prescott, a transfer from Texas Tech, has shown her ability to find the net during the preseason. There are also some others who could help fill that need on the offensive side as well.”