(Look for 10th anniversary features on all of our teams throughout the season.)
SPECIAL FEATURE (Sept. 15, 2016) -- The Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) athletic program has had great success throughout its 10 years as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). One of OLLU's most successful team is women's soccer.
The team began competing in 2008; under Head Coach Shane Hurley and Assistant Coach Arthur Salazar, the team was a finalist in the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) tournament in 2009, losing to the University of Texas at Brownsville 0-1, and in 2010, losing to Northwood University 0-2. The following two years, the Saints were semifinalists in the postseason tournament.
In 2013, Salazar took over the head coaching duties for the women, while Hurley remained head coach for the men.
Salazar's 2013 team kicked off a three-season dominance, finishing the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons No. 1 in the RRAC, regular season champions, tournament champions and NAIA national tournament qualifiers. This year's senior class knows only how to win – they've racked up only one conference loss, while winning 21 games.
>Salazar is excited about the 10th> anniversary. He said, "I think it's great. It's been an interesting process watching the programs grow and develop into what they've become. With the women's team having so much success over the last few years, the standards have continued to be set high. So we've got to make sure we continue to push forward and really help [all of] our programs flourish."
Reflections from alumni
Inaugural team members Amanda Bonds, Jacqueline "Jackie" Ibarra, Bianca Ramirez and Rebekah Valenta reflected on their time at OLLU and what it was like to be the first women's soccer players.
Ibarra played on the Saints team for two years. "It was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience to be a member of the inaugural team. The coaching staff did such a great job recruiting – to be a part of a team that was fun, hardworking and successful was an honor."
Valenta treasures the first year. "No way to describe the way it felt to be part of the inaugural women's soccer team at OLLU that would do it justice. I know the program has grown since then and done amazing things each year and will continue to grow, but there's a different kind of pride attached to knowing you helped pave the way and start a program that would later evolve into something so great. And, no one can ever take that pride and feeling away from all of those who started the team. "
"Knowing I was part of something that was integrated into the University for the first time was an honor," Bonds (pictured at left) described.
Ramirez felt several emotions being part of the first team. "It was a mix between exciting and terrifying. On one hand, we were making our mark at OLLU by being the very first women's soccer team, but at same time, we had no upperclassmen to guide us in what the journey would be like. Luckily we all bonded very well and were able to be each other's support when we were feeling down."
Significant individual accomplishments
After that first season in 2008, Bonds was named to the Association of Independent Institutions All-Conference First Team, while Valenta was an Honorable Mention selectee.
The following year, Valenta received Second-Team honors as part of the RRAC, and Ramirez was named to the Second Team in 2011.
Bonds, Ibarra, Ramirez and Valenta were conference scholar athletes, while Bonds and Valenta were named NAIA Scholar Athletes in 2010 and 2011 and Valenta again in 2012. Valenta also received CoSIDA Academic All-American and All-District awards in 2012.
Bonds played three years for the women's soccer team - from 2008-2010 - and then moved over to join the Saints volleyball team in 2011. She holds the record for the most aces in a game with six.
Ramirez (pictured at right) played four years, from 2008-2011, and Valenta played 2008 and 2009. She suffered an injury and did not play in 2010; she played again in 2011, and in 2012 as a graduate student.
All of the women find it highly important to keep in touch with the University and the team.
Bonds said, "They were a huge part of my life. All the blood, sweat and tears I gave were for the team."
"It's important to keep in touch with the coaches, staff, my teammates, fellow men's team teammates and those who have followed because when you're on a team regardless of what kind, you develop strong ties to those people," Valenta commented. "Some drift off and others become family almost because unlike other relationships, those people fought with you through the all-night study sessions, 3-a-day practices, preseason, offseason, community volunteer projects, pranks, long bus trips, etc., but most of all, they fought alongside you on the battlefield, and whether close or not, they had your back and you had theirs because you were on a team. Those memories don't go away, but are something valuable that you share forever. I like to see how they're doing, catch up and help them out if they ever need something."
Ramirez stays in touch with the coaches. "I like to see how their season is going, and of course, I enjoy our annual alumni events. I have also made best friends from OLLU who I still keep in contact with."
"A few of us, men and women, actually played in recreation leagues post-OLLU, too," Ibarra (pictured at left) said. "Being a student-athlete, you really learn to lean on your teammates and build those friendships – they were such a big part of my life, so it's always nice to stay in touch."
Love for OLLU
Bonds, a native of El Paso, received her education degree from OLLU in December 2012. She is now a teacher at Rhodes Middle School. At OLLU, "I liked the professors. I liked that I was not just a student that provided them with a paycheck. They knew my name and wanted to see me succeed."
Born in Carrollton, Texas, Ibarra is now a season ticket service coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. She manages season ticket holder accounts and is in charge of renewing them each season. She also manages all aspects of the season ticket experience (events, website and promotions). "I couldn't have asked for a better experience playing two seasons at OLLU. Some of my favorite memories from college are from away trips with the team and tournaments. I even felt that way about training camp, even though I might have not felt that way at the time – ha ha."
Ramirez enjoyed the trips she took with the team the most. "Our road trips were always full of fun and laughter (unless we lost). I have so many pictures from bus trips that I still look back at and can remember every trip to every detail. On our road trips, it was all about soccer and nothing else." Ramirez, who is from Corpus Christi, Texas, received a social work degree from OLLU in December 2012 and a master's in social work in December 2013. She went on to work at Child Protective Services. She also continues to play soccer, never stopping since leaving OLLU. She has plans to return to OLLU in the future as an undergraduate professor for the Worden School of Social Work. "...God willing."
OLLU had a great impact on Valenta (pictured at right). "OLLU, as cliché as this may sound, changed my life, and changed me for the better. In fact, I cannot pinpoint a specific thing that stood out most in my academic career at OLLU other than saying that it saved me. I fear who, and where I would be had I not decided to attend OLLU." Valenta received a bachelor's degree in May 2012 and a Master of Social Work in May 2013. She returned home to McAllen, Texas, and is now a social worker at the Local Mental Health Authority in Edinburg, Texas. She has been there for two years; previously, she worked at the Local Mental Health Authority in San Antonio after interning there while earning her master's degree.
These are just a few of the more than 100 women's soccer student-athletes who have made up the nine rosters for OLLU. They garnered a lot of memories and a quality education from OLLU and OLLU has benefited from their successes in the community and beyond. The University is forever grateful for their continued support and dedication.
10th Anniversary celebration
Our Lady of the Lake University will celebrate the 10th anniversary throughout the 2016-2017 season and will officially kick off the celebration on Monday, Sept. 19, beginning at 12:30 p.m. in the Mall Area. Free hot dogs and commemorative t-shirts will be given away, while supplies last.
Throughout the season, all student-athletes who played at OLLU and who graduated will receive free admission to home volleyball and home basketball games – all other home games (soccer, softball and tennis) are free. Alumni attending may bring up to two family members for free admission.