New coach to propel soccer to uncharted territories
The Cougar soccer team finished the 2016-17 with a record of 6-7-3. This was their best record in five years but firmly in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference.
But this offseason was highlighted by the hiring of Diego Bocanegra as the women’s new head coach. Bocanegra comes to the team having spent the last three years as an assistant at Notre Dame. While at Notre Dame the Fighting Irish won the 2016 ACC regular season title and qualified for the NCAA tournament all three years.
“Notre Dame really showed me what a top 5, top 10 program looks like,” Bocanegra said. “From the personnel to the training habits, technology, travel, all the little details I now know what it looks like to be a top program in the country. An ACC champion in the hardest conference in women’s soccer.”
Bocanegra’s immediate impact on the team has been to do away with the complacency. To not settle for what the team has accomplished in the past. This change in attitude from what the team has experienced has resulted in the entire roster buying in.
Junior defender Haley Hubbard led the team in minutes last season. She saw first hand the areas the team needs to improve in and the efforts Bocanegra has done towards bettering the squad.
“Unity and getting to know each better other on and off the field,” Hubbard said. “We’ve been here for a month so I think that us being together really separates us from any other team.”
At the moment Bocanegra does not see any one player becoming the sole figure that the team relies on. Instead he sees the strength lying in the whole group. Any given day someone on the team has the capabilities to step up and get the job done.
Senior midfielder Vanessa Almaguer led the Cougars in games played last season. She saw that while the defensive structure was strong the team lacked the offensive consistency to rival the better teams in the conference.
Almaguer saw that while the season was sprinkled with moments of individual brilliance there simply was not enough goalscorers on the squad.
“We have great talent on our team, we have great individual talent,” Almaguer said. “The last bit is putting the individual talent together and being the best team we can be because I know we’re good enough to make conference and win conference.”
Bocanegra is not setting any goals for the team in terms of wins. His goal is getting his athletes to focus in on the process and taking the season one game at a time. Bocanegra believes as the season rolls along the wins will come as long as they stay focused. But the Cougars expect to be in the conference tournament and playing for a title.
“I know we’re good enough and I know the coaching staff is incredible,” Almaguer said. “So when you put those two together it has to be a championship win.