Soccer shifts focus to future after troubled past
They wake up before the sun rises, get their equipment and make their way to the Carl Lewis Complex for the first day of fall workouts. In the scorching Houston climate that provides enough humidity to suffocate, the girls of the UH soccer team are beginning to prepare for a season in which they have much to prove.
It hasn’t been easy for the upperclassmen of the soccer team, though.
The team has been bad for three consecutive seasons. Not just miss-the-postseason-bad, but historically bad. In these last three seasons combined, the team has managed just a 6-36-8 overall record and is still searching for their first American Athletic Conference victory at 0-25-1.
“It’s hard to put in the work everyday just like other teams are and not see results,” Junior midfielder Kristina Schulz said. “It’s just hard to kind of regroup the girls and be like ‘we need to keep working.’ What we’re doing is obviously not good enough, we need to keep going to not lose and have faith in this program.”
Many people have never considered what it is like to be a member of a struggling collegiate athletic team.
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to see the perks of being a student-athlete. Most, however, do not recognize the sacrifice it actually takes, especially when things are not going your way. Imagine how easy it must be to lose sight of your team’s goals when the victories become scarce.
“It’s definitely made a lot of us more humble because we came from top-select soccer teams in high school and we were used to just smashing everyone,” Junior Selena Peters said. “Then we come here and it’s just like ‘what the heck happened?’ It has made a lot of us more humble and now we know we are taking steps in the right direction. We’re just ready to take over.”
An unfortunate byproduct of the team’s lack of success has been stunted attendance numbers. In 2015, the soccer team had an average home attendance of just 166 fans per game. To put that number into perspective, the team averaged about 506 fans per game while on the road.
The team admits that they can feel a surge of motivation when playing in front of sizable crowds, something that rarely happens while playing on their home field. The players admit that when they see their friends and fans filing in, it gives them extra motivation to succeed.
Looking to the future, sophomore Hayley Hubbard believes that the extra work the team has put in will go a long way for their success in 2016.
“We work really hard every single day to be the best. It may not show up from the score, but we’re getting there,” Hubbard said.
Soccer’s trials have not come in vain, but have served as an important learning experience that the team hopes to use to their advantage going forward. With more experience and cohesion, soccer believes that they are poised to finally turn the corner as a program.
“Now we’ve been through two seasons with most of us together and we know how to react to things. We know how teams are going to play, and so I feel like it’s just raw experience for us now,” Schulz said. “We know what it feels like to not win a game. It’s just a reminder every time we step on that field that we don’t want to lose again.”
Knowing that they need to change the narrative that surrounds their team, players have gone as far as staying at other teammates’ houses this summer to get extra practice together. The NCAA prohibits coaches from organizing these types of events, but there is no rule against players going out of their way to practice with their team while on vacation.
As one of the leaders on the team, Peters thinks that improving next season begins with a two-step approach.
“We need to get these freshmen and newcomers adjusted to our style of play,” Peters said. “The last step is our mental focus and staying mentally into the game because in the last minute we would all break down mentally.”
The women’s soccer team understands what they need to do to be successful. They appear to be taking steps in the right direction.
Despite all they have been through, the team still does not lack any confidence. The players are anxious to get back on the field and believe they will surprise a lot of people.
“We have a lot of heart. It shows on the field, it shows in practice,” Peters said. “Our goal is to go undefeated, we want to win the conference tournament.”