By Anthony Mannino
A youthful Texas women’s squad under new head coach Angela Kelly replaces what some thought was a disappointing and disconnected team in 2011. The Longhorn women kick off their season today at Mike A. Myers stadium when they face the Dayton Flyers at 7 p.m. CDT (TV: Longhorn Network).
Kelly, formerly the head coach at University of Tennessee, will have nine true freshmen at her disposal for the upcoming season. Goalkeeper Abby Smith, who will miss the start of the Longhorns season because she will be playing for the U.S. in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, headlines the class of nine true freshmen.
The youth doesn’t end with the first-year Longhorns. There isn’t a single upperclassman returning in the backline, and the Longhorns will sorely miss center back Lucy Keith who graduated.
That being said, the defense has experience with sophomores Brooke Gilbert and Julie Arnold who started all 21 matches for Texas’ backline last year as freshmen. Whitney Jaynes, also a freshman in 2011, started the final 10 games as a defender.
The Longhorns’ problems in 2011 weren’t because of the defense, which is good considering three starters are returning, but rather, the creative and scoring aspects of the game.
Texas never played as an attacking unit in 2011, and instead, the team looked a group of individuals, unwilling to work together. The lack of cohesiveness from last year’s team appears to have vanished after recent comments from senior Kara Hoffman.
“It definitely is a different mentality this year with everyone staying all summer and working hard every single day,” said Hoffman on the change in mentality this year. “You could really tell with the fitness test today when all the ones that had already passed were cheering their teammates on all around the track.”
The improvement isn’t just coming in the locker room for the Longhorns, but also, the tactics Kelly is instilling on her young squad. The coach wants Texas to play the beautiful passing brand of soccer that is taking over the sport.
“Ultimately, we want to play very attractively,” said Kelly after Texas’ preseason game against Texas State. “We want to keep possession of the ball, but if our opponent is going to stay up and make a lot of space behind, we want to be able to execute. The ultimate goal is to score more than the competition.”
Kelly has 16 underclassmen that she can mold into her style of play in the next couple of years. But don’t expect the soccer to be particularly pretty this season. The coaching staff will need a year or two to have the players perfecting an attacking style that Kelly wants.
This year there will be growing pains, but the changes from last year’s team to this year’s squad already seem for the better of Longhorn soccer. Hannah Higgins, who had eight assists last year, and Kristine Cummins are two attacking players that will fit well into Kelly’s system. They are seniors who have experience in Big 12 play, and will look to be leaders among a large group of underclassmen.
With the youth in the squad and a new system, it will be a challenge for Texas to be battling for a Big 12 title this year, which means they likely wouldn’t make the NCAA tournament. However, the changes in the program will reap benefits immediately and in another year or two, this team could contend for a Big 12 Championship and be a national power.