SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 16, 2019) - The Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) women's soccer team will enter its 12th season on Sept. 2 with a nonconference game against Oklahoma City University at home. With an equal amount of newcomers and returners, the Saints are looking forward to improving upon the semifinals finish they had last year.
Last year, the Saints finished with a 12-5-1 overall record and 8-2 in the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC). They ended the year as semifinalists in the postseason tournament. Other than its first season in 2008 and in 2017, the team has qualified for RRAC Tournament. From 2013 – Salazar's first year as head coach – through 2016, the Saints captured both the conference regular-season and tournament titles – qualifying them for the NAIA National Tournament. In those four years, the team recorded just one conference loss.
Salazar commented about last year, "We had a group of young players come in, and they were able to re-establish the culture that we've had over the years here; they turned things around for us after a rough season two years ago. The cohesiveness within the group and establishing the relationships really helped us with the performance on the field."
Key roster losses
Three players from last year's squad, who finished out their collegiate soccer careers, were Brooke Cousins, Erica Robertson and Mako Tembo.
Tembo played for the Saints two years and received NAIA and RRAC Scholar-Athlete recognition.
Both Cousins and Robertson were on the team for four years, and during this time, they both established themselves as two of the best players in Saints' history. Both were perennial All-Conference and RRAC Scholar-Athlete awardees, while Cousins was a two-time NAIA Scholar-Athlete honoree. She also earned CoSIDA Academic All-American. Cousins was 2019's OLLU Big Blue Top Saints – the university's top female athlete.
They are included in the women's soccer's record books in career goals, shots on goals, total shots, and game-winning goals. Robertson holds season records in game-winning goals with eight and shots on goal with 46, while Cousins holds the single-game record for most goals in a game with five, shots on goal with seven and total shots with 11.
"It happens every year," Salazar said. "You lose contributing players, and you just have to find ways to fill those gaps, whether it be from the physical aspect or the leadership side of things."
Returning starters are Dawson Brinkley (SO/San Antonio, Texas), Olivia Eagleson (SO/El Paso, Texas), Maryssa Garza (SR/Portland, Texas), Mikaela Gilbert (JR/San Antonio, Texas), Baye Polansky (JR/Helotes, Texas), Yolanda Vazquez (JR/Los Angeles, Calif.), Erika Zapata (SO/Baytown, Texas) and Jessica Zapata (SO/Baytown, Texas).
"The Zapata twins came in a did a great job; Dawson came in and did a fantastic job; and Jaylin Seto (SO/Houston, Texas). I could go on and on because that whole class came in and really contributed greatly to the success of what were able to do last year," Salazar commented. "The expectation is that they are all going to come in and be able to continue to perform and build off of what we were able to establish last year."
Brinkley had a breakout season during which she earned NAIA All-American, First-Team All-Conference, All-Tournament, Conference Offensive Player of the Year and Conference Newcomer of the Year honors. She now has the record for most goals in a season with 18 and most shots with 77.
Other returners include sophomores: Liliana Briseno, Sophia Mora (SO/San Antonio, Texas) and Seto; juniors: Savannah Hernandez (JR/El Paso, Texas), Carolina Miranda (JR/Porter, Texas) and Victoria Morales (JR/Brownsville, Texas); and senior Victoria Castro (SR/McAllen, Texas).
Gilbert, Polansky and Erika Zapata all earned All-Conference honors. Briseno was named to the All-Tournament team.
NAIA Scholar Team
The university is proud of the women's soccer team, which earned its fourth consecutive NAIA Scholar Team award. Ilaina Brenes-Rodriguez, Brinkley, Briseno, Cousins, Eagleson, Gilbert, Hernandez, Miranda, Mora, Polansky, Robertson, Seto, Tembo, Vazquez and both Zapatas earned RRAC Scholar-Athlete awards.
Of the 15 newcomers, all are freshmen. They include Taylor DeBrosky (FR/Kingwood, Texas), Melanie DeLuna (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Nadia Gomez (FR/Round Rock, Texas), Madison Herrera (FR/Helotes, Texas), Nallely Infante (FR/Houston, Texas), Sarah Miles (FR/Helotes, Texas), Emily Morin (FR/McAllen, Texas), Riley Perez (FR/El Paso, Texas), Ambree Rheinberger (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Bre'Ana Robledo (FR/Arlington, Texas), Alexandria Rodriguez, Haley Smith (FR/Spring Branch, Texas), Desiree Velazquez (FR/Katy, Texas), Andrea Villarreal (FR/Cypress, Texas) and Brianna Yanez (FR/Portland, Texas).
"We have quite a few [newcomers], so it's hard to narrow down [who will have the biggest impact]," Salazar said. "We just want to make sure, first and foremost that they buy into what we are trying to sell. And that is, focusing on team camaraderie, and making sure they are understanding the culture of the program so that way we can continue to build off of last year's progress."
The Saints will compete against nine other RRAC teams, including 2018 tournament champion LSU-Shreveport. The conference lost the University of St. Thomas, which moved to the NCAA D3, and Wiley College, who decided not to sponsor soccer this year. St. Thomas was the conference's regular-season champion in 2018.
In addition to Shreveport (13-5-2/9-0-2), other conference opponents include LSU-Alexandria (9-6-4/7-2-2), the University of Houston-Victoria (7-6-1/7-4), the University of the Southwest (9-8/6-5), Huston-Tillotson University (6-8/5-6), Texas A&M University – Texarkana (4-13/4-7), Texas College (2-13-1/1-9-1), Paul Quinn College (3-14/1-10) and Jarvis Christian College (3-13-2/0-10-1).
The Saints will play three scrimmages, nine home matches and nine away games this year.
Salazar commented, "We are looking forward to the 2019 season. We will need to be focused and diligent in our preparation against the stiff competition we will see throughout the season."
Kicking off the preseason will be an informal match against Saints alumni on Aug. 17, followed by three scrimmages beginning Aug. 20 against Texas Lutheran University, followed by a match against LeTourneau University on Aug. 24. The Saints will play their home opener against Schreiner University on Aug. 26 at 2 p.m.
Their regular-season starts with a three-game homestand, first against Oklahoma City University (OLLU 3-OCU 3) on Sept. 2, followed by the University of St. Thomas (4-12-1) on Sept. 4 and Wayland Baptist University (4-0) on Sept. 9. The women will be off to Belton, Texas, for a match against the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (2-0) on Sept. 14, and then the Saints will play their Fifth Annual Halo Classic against St. Mary's University on Sept. 17 at home. The Saints have won one game out of four against the Rattlers since the classic began in 2014.
After a trip to Austin for a match against Concordia University – Texas (5-1) Sept. 20, the Saints will begin their RRAC schedule Sept. 26 at home against Texas A&M University – Texarkana (1-1). On the 28th, they will play Paul Quinn College (4-0), and then they will head out for a four-game travel schedule beginning Oct. 3 against Jarvis Christian College (5-0). Texas College (11-0) will follow Oct. 5; next, are Huston-Tillotson University (10-2) on Oct. 10 and the University of the Southwest (14-1) on Oct. 12.
Oct. 17 against LSU-Alexandria (5-1-1) and Oct. 19 against LSU-Shreveport (3-2-2) will be the team's last home games of the season - the university will honor seniors Maryssa Garza and Victoria Castro before the game. They will then travel to Victoria, Texas, for their final regular-season game against the University of Houston-Victoria (12-1) Oct. 26.
The Saints will get ready for the RRAC Championship Tournament that has the opening round on Nov. 1-2 at campus sites. The semifinals and finals matches will take place Nov. 7-8 in Texarkana, Texas, hosted by Texas A&M University – Texarkana. The winner of the tournament will participate in the NAIA Women's Soccer Championship Tournament with the first round on Nov. 23 at campus sites and the final rounds Dec. 2-7 at Orange Beach, Ala.
Joining Salazar on the coaching staff for the second consecutive year is Danny Oughton. In addition, Brendan Johnson will join the staff, as well as Ilaina Brenes-Rodriguez, who will be the team's manager.
The Saints are welcoming the "Voice of the Saints," John Paul, who is an educator with the North Side Independent School District. He will announce all home soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball games.
Michael Thompson, the live streaming "Voice of the Saints," will call all home games that will broadcast on the OLLU Saints Network for free. The games will also be broadcasted on KSAT.com.
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.