Season preview: Texas aims for nothing short of conference crown

Ross Burkhart

The 2017 season was head coach Angela Kelly’s most impressive to date as the face of Texas soccer.

A 14-win campaign hadn’t previously been achieved in nine years. Their record-tying 11-game win streak was the longest since 2001. And an appearance in the Round of 16 in the NCAA tournament didn’t hurt the program’s credibility, either.

There’s little doubt — the Longhorns are back to their winning ways.

So, how do they take a step even further this season? Kelly says the key is to avoid becoming too satisfied.

“One of the things you always guard against is never resting on your laurels,” Kelly said after the team’s exhibition win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “Last season, we were very pleased and we had success, but we didn't come away with a trophy. We’re going to make sure that we understand that we did some good things and we need to continue to do those things and build on that and add everything that we've done. Ultimately, we need to come out with a trophy.”

The absent Big 12 Championship trophy is perhaps the team’s only blemish in what was otherwise a successful season characterized by exceeding expectations.

The Longhorns received an unlucky draw in the conference tournament tournament, resulting in a disappointing first-round exit to eventual conference champion Baylor.

Looking forward, things are bright for Texas. The program is returning players that accounted for 28 of their 29 goals last season, per Texas Sports. When you combine that level of offensive production with junior goalkeeper Nicole Curry’s hindrance on defense and a crop of highly talented incoming freshmen, there’s a recipe for a team that could top last year’s showing.

“I think it’s awesome that we get to return so many people, but we also have a lot of new people that we need to get comfortable with on the field too,” junior forward Cyera Hintzen said. “If we can just bring the whole team and get that chemistry going again then great things will happen.”

Hintzen and sophomore midfielder Haley Berg are once again expected to be the backbone of the program as the two combined for 16 of the team’s goals during last season.

The two leaders share a message consistent with Kelly’s approach to this season: It’s championship or bust for the Longhorns.

“Last season went really well, but we don't have a Big 12 Championship,” Berg said. “That’s what we’re shooting for because we could've and should've done that last time. This year, the sky’s the limit.”

It’s easy to see why Kelly expects success out of her team, year in and year out. In her four-year playing career at North Carolina, from 1991–1994, she helped lead the Tar Heels to a national title all four seasons. It’s the reason why she invited Mia Hamm, her former college teammate and Team USA soccer legend, to address the Longhorn athletes after the season-opening exhibition.

This year’s roster is the most talented that Kelly has coached during her tenure at Texas. That’s why the program is hoping to strike while the iron is hot.

Texas has already started off the season with a 3-0 victory over Rice on Friday.

While the Longhorns enter the season as the 17th-ranked program in the country, the head coach is more focused on where they’ll find themselves at the finish line.

“Yeah, I mean, 17th isn’t first,” Kelly said. “There has to be a starting point for everything, but I’m always more concerned with where we finish.”