SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 17, 2017) – In October 2006, Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) Athletic Director Jack Hank hired the first head coach – Shane Hurley – for the first team that would kick off intercollegiate athletics the following year. That fall, Hurley began to put his inaugural men's soccer team together and in August 2007, his team began competing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. From that maiden year through 2017, the Saints have continued to be the leaders among all 13 teams at OLLU.
Hurley is proud of this legacy and he says, "Each and every year, we've taken steps forward to [make an impact] socially, in the community, academically, on being able to retain students and of course our competitiveness on the field."
Hurley concedes that this year's team will have many changes.
In 2016, the team featured the largest graduating class in history. Nine finished out their collegiate career and of those nine, seven were starters, including the three captains, and two came off the bench.
Setting the bar high
Last year's seniors included keepers Igor Nunes do Nascimento and Jose Gomez, forward Jonathan Garay and starting defenders/captains Jared Poling, Angel De La Garza and Juan Carlos Vasquez. Forward Nickolas Tyrpak, midfielder Marco Perales and center back Sergio Gonzalez also played integral roles on the team.
Led by the nine seniors, the Saints were able to capture their second Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) title after going undefeated at 6-0-3 and 10-3-3 overall. Hurley and the team recorded their 100th career win in 2016 and their all-time record is 104-60-14.
"They set the bar high last year, but the fresh faces we have this year will have to be the hardest workers, they'll have to outwork everyone else, in order to be successful. Having that attitude will help us be better and be able to compete," Hurley said.
Returners, Standouts and Newly Named Captains
Luis Sanchez (JR/San Antonio, Texas) and A.J. Gonzalez will be the only returning starting seniors on the team. According to Hurley, "A.J. has always brought a very good energy and a vibe to the team, and he brings a bit of lightheartedness sometimes, but at the same time, he is very motivated and driven. He has been a fantastic leader. I definitely have a lot of high expectations of him. As long as he continues to do the right things, he'll be good for us."
Hurley singled out four returners and praised their perseverance and work ethic. Junior Adam Bieker (JR/McAllen, Texas), a midfielder, saw very little playing time his freshman and sophomore year. "He had a good attitude and was respectful toward his teammates and to me and my decisions. He didn't like it [not playing] but he did the right things to get himself better and better. For that reason, right now, he's one of the lead candidates to start, and he has the potential to be a team leader."
Another returner Hurley is impressed with is sophomore midfielder Giovanni Cardenas (SO/Edinburg, Texas). "Physically he brought a lot to the game and now, he doesn't just bring that physical [aspect], he brings in the mental component to the game. His ability to read the game is so much better. His ability to organize players off the ball has drastically improved." Cardenas was named co-captain of the team.
In addition to Cardenas, Hurley talked about sophomore midfielder Guillermo Serrano (SO/Grand Prairie, Texas). "He had a pretty good spring, and he's prepared himself well in the summer; he's doing very well right now."
Hurley also likes how junior forward Adrian Delgado (JR/Brownsville, Texas) is playing. "He looks very sharp in preseason, so we are excited about him, as well."
Returning junior and newly named co-captain is keeper and All-Conference first-teamer Jorge Cavazos (JR/McAllen, Texas). Sophomores returning are midfielder Oscar Cordova (SO/Brownsville, Texas) and midfielder Estuardo Teran (SO/Brownsville, Texas).
James Halpin (JR/Liverpool, England), a junior who transferred to OLLU in spring 2017, has also mixed in well with the team. "He's different from the men we usually recruit, being from Liverpool, as we typically do the majority of our recruiting from South Texas. He's brought in a different dynamic, but it's a very healthy dynamic in his approach to the game." Halpin joins Cardenas and Cavazos as team captains this season.
Hurley is thrilled with the large amount of transfers coming in this year. "A lot of them are impressed with how we train, and how we work together. That's not to say there is not a lot of progress to be made, but they are going in the right direction."
Two late additions from El Paso are junior midfielder Jose Barraza (JR/El Paso, Texas) and junior forward Jesus Cortes (JR/El Paso, Texas). "Jesus has some good movements off the ball, and he is humble about his abilities especially since he had a lot of success in junior college. Jose brings us a lot of depth in the middle of the field, and he has a strong athletic presence."
Hurley also mentioned senior forward Roger Rizzi (SR/Chapeco, Brazil) and junior midfielder Matheus Campos (JR/Belo Horizonte, Brazil) – both from Brazil. "If they stick to their roles, they will be successful."
At 6'6", junior forward David Hillman (JR/London, Northhampton, UK), who is from London, is not your typically forward, but Hurley is happy with what he has to offer the team.
Other transfers joining the team are: juniors – Nick Genthon (JR/Houston, Texas), Noe Salinas (JR/New Braunfels, Texas), Jose Escareno (JR/Mission, Texas); sophomore Alejandro Esparza (SO/Weslaco, Texas); and freshmen – Miguel Sanchez (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Martin Garcia (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Austen Medellin (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Santiago Reyes (FR/El Paso, Texas), Carlos Cabrera (FR/Mission, Texas), Jose Pesina (FR/Hidalgo, Texas), Gabe Quinones (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Jose Delgado (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Johnny Martinez (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Anthony Cuellar (FR/Brownsville, Texas), Joel Gonzalez (FR/Harlingen, Texas), Alberto Ramos, Mario Elizondo-Calderon (FR/Pharr, Texas).
Also joining the team is graduate student Kyle Wolfenbarger (SR/Murfreesboro, Tenn.), who is a goal keeper. Wolfenbarger joins the team as its first-ever member of the U.S. Armed Forces. He is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Tennessee Army National Guard and is assigned to 74A CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear). Wolfenbarger is pursuing a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership at OLLU.
By Hurley's side this year will be Assistant Coach Arthur Salazar (Head Coach for the women's team), Assistant Coach Marcelo Chapa and Goalkeeper Coach Zachery Brewer. New to the staff is Jared Poling, who finished out his four years on the Saints team in 2016 as captain. He received his bachelor's degree in May and is pursuing a master's degree at OLLU.
The Saints will compete against 11 other RRAC teams, including 2016 champion LSU-Alexandria, and LSU-Shreveport, who returns to the conference in men's soccer after taking four years off. Other conference opponents include the University of Houston-Victoria, Huston-Tillotson University, Jarvis Christian College, University of the Southwest, University of St. Thomas, Texas A&M University – Texarkana, Texas College and Wiley College.
Hurley said, "Our biggest opponent in the conference will definitely be LSU-Alexandria. They are always sharp; hat's off to them for having a great conference tournament last season and for going on to the national tournament. I am sure they will come back with a similar type mindset."
Hurley also said Wiley will be a formidable opponent, but he also indicated,"there aren't a lot of teams [in our conference] that are not on the 'hunt.' The margin between the top and the bottom is not that big. I think that is a positive thing for the conference.
"Personally, who I think is the number one to look out for is Houston-Victoria. They are big, athletic, strong and play quality ball. They play very quick and they are very strong defensively. What they have returning, they are the favorites."
The Saints will begin the season on Aug. 17 with a scrimmage at Laredo Community College. And on Aug. 20, the team will play men's soccer alumni from 2007 through last year. It's one game that Hurley always enjoys. With a big smile on his face, he said "It's always a happy time when we see them. We get so busy and we have to concentrate on one team at a time, and year after year, those memories of particular teams fade. But it's always fun to recall those special times we spent with each team. They've all made transformations, whether it be in jobs, having kids, getting married; it's always fun to catch up and see how they've progressed."
On Aug. 21, the team will travel to Seguin for a scrimmage against Texas Lutheran University, and on Aug. 24, they will play another scrimmage against Jacksonville College at home.
The team will play nonconference games against Oklahoma City University on Sept. 1 and the University of Texas at Tyler on Sept 3 – both at home. They will travel to Nebraska for two games on Sept. 8-9, and then to Edinburg for a game against NCAA D1 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Sept. 16. This game is always highly anticipated because there is always a good amount of men on the Saints team who call the Valley home, so playing there every year gives their families and friends the opportunity to watch them play at "home." This year, 15 of the 33 on the Saints' squad are from the Valley.
The Saints begin their conference schedule on Sept. 23 in Austin against Huston-Tillotson University.
Home Games and Livestreaming
The Saints are welcoming a brand-new in-game "Voice of the Saints," after the departure of long-time announcer Jay Tope last season. Coming in this year is Karl Shoening, sports broadcaster with iHeartMedia and Texas State University. Shoening is the co-founder of SHN | sports, which focuses on the three big sports at the high school and collegiate level - football, baseball and basketball. He will announce all home soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball games.
Michael Thompson, the livestreaming "Voice of the Saints," will return to call all home games that will broadcast on the OLLU Saints Network.
Hurley encourages Saints fans to come out to their games, and enjoy the heat, "Tell yourself it's cold [so you don't feel the heat]." He and his team would appreciate the support and for the community to come out and see how hard the men has been working to be successful.
All home games are free and open to the public. The Saints Soccer Field is located on the west side of campus; enter through the gate at Commerce St. for immediate access to the field.