EDINBURG — Back in December, when UTPA made it official with the Western Athletic Conference, President Robert S. Nelsen couldn’t help himself.
He told Athletic Director Chris King, at the tail end of the ceremony, to let everyone know the school would be starting men’s and women’s soccer programs. The news received a warm reception, but it just kind of stuck there. Until Wednesday.
“I’m beyond happy for the institution and beyond happy for the community,” King said. “I think it’s fantastic, something we’ve been looking forward to. … It’s been a goal of ours.”
UTPA announced that it will be adding women’s soccer in 2014 and men’s soccer in 2015 at a news conference on campus. Men’s soccer, which will be one of four Division I programs in Texas when it starts playing, is back after an 18-year hiatus.
But women’s soccer, which King said was going to be added regardless of it being a core sport for the WAC, is first up. Both teams, King said, will cost over $1 million annually. Plus, the school knows it needs to build a new facility that can house those teams.
Temporarily, King said they were looking at two stadiums — one on campus, one off — that the Broncs could play at should the new facility not be ready by 2014. Outside of saying the off-campus site would be a high school stadium, the school didn’t give further details.
In 2014, the WAC is slated to have seven teams in women’s soccer. For 2013, which will be the first year the WAC offers men’s soccer, the league will have seven teams. Two more will be added in 2014.
With that, in order to compete with schools like New Mexico State, Houston Baptist and San Jose State, UTPA knows it needs to keep local talent close to home.
“I’m excited for the youth in the Valley,” Nelsen said. “We’ve lost so many kids, who are fantastic soccer players, going elsewhere. They finally get to stay here. I think it will be one of our most winning programs immediately because of the talent that we have here.”
Of course, many local soccer players, despite possibly having the talent, never wind up being eligible for Division I competition. Nelsen, well aware of that, figures it won’t be a problem.
“We’ll be able to work with them and get those students qualified,” he said. “I’m not worried about that. It’s one of the things I’m most confident about.”
Last year, most conference games in the WAC were played on Friday and Sunday. Both days draw heavy outside competition in the fall, first from high school football, then from the NFL.
So, at least at first, it might be a struggle to get people to go. But King, with his eyes squarely set on attracting people within the UTPA community, thinks there’s more than enough interest.
“I think soccer has its niche, both women’s soccer and men’s soccer,” he explained. “If we’re not drawing from our own students and faculty, we’re not going to draw really well.”
Todd Orodenker covers UTPA athletics for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4431 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.