Experience is the key to a successful season as the Sam Houston State women’s soccer team prepares to enter its fifth year of competition. When the Bearkats open the 2007 season this Friday at 7 p.m. at Pritchett Field against the UTEP Miners, there will be lots of experience on the field for SHSU. Head coach Marcia Oliveira has the luxury of returning nine starters from last year’s team, including 2007 preseason all-Southland Conference selections Tofi Chavez and Raquel Bueno.
However, the Bearkats will require strong performances from all eleven starters this Friday to compete against UTEP. The Miners are an established powerhouse in NCAA women’s soccer.
“UTEP is a very strong team. We have been blessed to play a strong team every year to prepare us,” said coach Oliveira, “Playing a strong team on the first game is pretty tough.”
Junior forward Raqel Bueno and senior forward Yoanna Garcia are expected to be the Bearkat’s most dangerous offensive threats. Garcia led the team in scoring last season despite playing in only ten games due to a knee injury. Bueno and Garcia both rank in the top five in career scoring at Sam Houston State.
Defensively, the Bearkats will rely on the leadership of senior defender Tofi Chavez. Chavez, who has experience playing for the Mexican national team, was named the Bearkat’s captain for 2007.
Other returning players include Noelle Wiggins, Brittany Foerstner, Ashley Simmons, Carla Campbell, Charity Lett, Alison Oakland, Monica Madden, and Laura Ybanez. .
Unfortunately, the SHSU Bearkats lack experience in goal. Four-year starter and former team captain Melissa Sauceda graduated, leaving the Bearkats without a returning starter in goal for the first time in the program’s short history. Newcomers, Kelly Sikinger of Houston Lamar and Jenny Pence of Kingwood are competing for the job.
“Having a freshman goalkeeper can be very scary, because in soccer a good goalkeeper can be half of the team,” said coach Oliveira, “But I am confident that both Jenny and Kelly have good skill levels and confidence.”
Other freshmen expected to make an impact include Candace Autwell of Midlothian, Debbie Campbell of Pflugerville, Ariana Jeff of Arlington Martin, Dany Leone from Canada, April Lozano of Alief Taylor, Luana Miessa from Brazil, and Nichole Watkins of Deer Park. Oliveira called this year’s group of incoming freshmen “one of the best recruiting classes we have ever had.”
The Bearkats struggled last year on the way to a (3-15) record, but achieved a milestone for the program on opening day. Garcia scored a game-winning goal in overtime against Mississippi State, giving the Bearkats their first ever victory over a team from a major conference.
The soccer program has also seen success in the recent past. In 2005 SHSU reached the finals of the Southland Conference post-season tournament, eventually losing to Northwestern State. According to Oliveira, the team’s number one goal is to maintain a 3.0 GPA.
“Once we keep the focus in academics we can also keep the focus in soccer,” said Oliveira.
After that, Oliveira and the Bearkats want to return to the post season again this season.
“It’s a big goal, but that’s the goal that we came up with together,” said Oliveira, “We want to go one game at a time and play the full ninety minutes every game.”