Soccer set to face Texas A&M in NCAA Tournament opener


Lorianne Willett

Goalie Savannah Midden kicks the ball downfield during the Texas vs. Oklahoma soccer game on Oct. 27, 2022. Texas beat Oklahoma 3-1.

Evan Vieth, Soccer beat reporter

After an early exit from the Big 12 tournament, the Texas soccer team focuses on defeating Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s just (about) getting ourselves refocused and right,” head coach Angela Kelly said after being eliminated by West Virginia. “I can’t be more proud of what they’ve done, but it’s new. It’s a new beginning.”

Texas secured the seven-seed in the NCAA Tournament, one of three Big 12 teams in the field alongside West Virginia and TCU. The Longhorns will play on Friday against the Texas A&M Aggies for a chance to advance to the second round. 

Heading into the tournament, sophomore striker Trinity Byars is fifth in the nation in scoring and third among players competing in the field. Her 41 points on the year are good for third in the nation, and her proficiency awarded her the Big 12 offensive player of the year award. Despite the team’s failure to make the Big 12 final, Kelly, who was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year, still has hopes for the team going into the tournament.

“I’m pretty certain there aren’t many schools in this group of 64 that would be too excited to face us,” Kelly said.“We have a prolific offense. The numbers and the stats speak for themselves.”

The Longhorns’ first-round matchup hits close to home for many of Texas’ players, as Texas A&M features several familiar faces. Byars, Lexi Missimo and EmJ Cox are three of the 11 Longhorns who played for Solar Soccer Club in high school, a club team near Dallas whose 2019-20 roster featured some of the best players in the nation. Six of Texas A&M’s players all played for the club and were teammates with the current Longhorns.

Among the six Aggies who played for Solar, graduate student defender Karlina Sample is the most notable. Sample finished the year with the most minutes played of anyone on Texas A&M’s roster and is one of the most decorated players on the team. 

“I’m excited, I know a couple of players on Texas A&M,” Missimo said. “I’m just excited to see them play and I hope we come out with a win.”

Texas A&M’s season ended in a similarly disappointing fashion as the Longhorns. The Aggies were knocked out in the first round of the SEC tournament by Mississippi State. The Aggies ended the season 9-6-5 with key wins over Ole Miss and Illinois earlier in the year. 

“They’ve had a lot of success,” Kelly said. “I have a lot of respect for the program and it’s definitely a tough first-round match.”

Though the Aggies have a weaker record than the Longhorns, Friday’s matchup will not be a cakewalk for the home side. Texas A&M sophomore striker Maile Hayes is third in the SEC in goals and was awarded a nod on the SEC first team. Hayes and Byars, both sophomore strikers who had impressive freshman seasons for their respective schools, will be key players to watch in Friday’s matchup, which begins at 5 p.m. at Mike A. Myers Stadium. 

Kelly ended her Monday press conference by echoing her beliefs in the team that she has led to success throughout the year. 

“We’re going to play free,” Kelly said. “We’re going to play excited, (and) we’re going to go for it.”