EDINBURG — The UTRGV women’s soccer team enters the 2019 season riding high after a record year but hungry for more ahead of the UTRGV Tournament this weekend.
The team finished the regular season at 12-6-3 last year, tied for second place in the Western Athletic Conference while setting all-time program records for wins and conference victories with five.
UTRGV won its first game of the conference tournament 4-3 on penalty kicks over California Baptist before falling 2-0 to Seattle U — which ended up winning the WAC and advancing to the NCAA Tournament — in the semifinals.
This year, however, the squad hopes to keep moving forward onto bigger and better achievements with a team filled with experienced upperclassmen, promising newcomers and some of the most talented individuals in the WAC.
“Last year, we had good wins. It was one of our best, so far. I think we got a better understanding of how each other play and also our coaches,” senior forward Sarah Bonney said. “This year, we’re going to try to be better. Last year was good, but this year we’re going to try to get more wins — probably like 16 wins or 20 — but more than last year. That’s the goal.”
Bonney was recently tabbed as a first team All-WAC selection, along with teammates Emily Zapata and Kinga Szemik.
Bonney — a native of Ghana — was one of UTRGV’s primary offensive weapons in 2018, finishing second on the team with 16 points, seven goals, 25 shots on goal, four game-winning goals and a pair of assists. She was previously named a second team All-WAC end-of-season selection in each of her first three seasons.
“I just think these kinds of things keep you on your toes because we haven’t even started the season yet and we haven’t played any games yet, but you are in the limelight already,” Bonney said. “It gets the other opponents looking at you because once you come up, everyone is looking at you. So you have to be on your toes and be prepared to do better because you still have to shine.”
Meanwhile, Zapata — a sophomore forward from Laredo and Bonney’s offensive counterpart — put up dazzling numbers during her freshman season, tallying team-highs with 23 points, 11 goals and 5 game-winning goals. She earned first team All-WAC honors at the end of last season, ranking third in the conference in shots and fourth in points.
Zapata was also one of college soccer’s most clutch players in 2018, as her five game-winning scores ranked among the top 15 nationally at the end of the regular season.
“Our opponents are going to be looking at us,” Zapata said. “They’re going to go hard, so we have to go hard to meet them.”
The duo believes the key to becoming even more successful on the pitch lies in their ability to communicate effectively and build better team chemistry this season to become one of the most prolific scoring tandems in the college ranks.
“The chemistry between our teammates and coaches is great. I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’ve achieved what we have achieved in the past year,” Zapata said. “We just have to keep on working hard like we used to last year. Now it’s another year, so we have to continue to work hard.”
“I’m still building chemistry with Emily. This is my last year and I can see Emily understands me more and I’m trying to do the same with the freshmen,” Bonney said. “That’s the goal: assist her more and score more goals.”
Rounding out UTRGV’s preseason All-WAC selections is Szemik, a senior leader one of the top goalkeepers in the region and the conference.
Szemik — a Polish native who played on her country’s Under-20 national team before arriving in Edinburg — tallied four shutouts last season, and ranked sixth in the conference with a .783 save percentage and sixth in saves with 72.
She was the first team All-WAC selection at goalkeeper at the end of the 2018 season and again this preseason. Head coach Glad Bugariu named Szemik and junior midfielder Madilyn Hepker.
“We have been blessed here with good captains,” Bugariu said in a news release. “They will continue on that path of having captains that can be a bridge between the coaching staff and the players and are not afraid to communicate directly with both sides. If we can get that on a regular basis then we will be ok.”
UTRGV looked extremely sharp in its first two scrimmages posting a 1-0 shutout of Incarnate Word in its first exhibition before dismantling UH-Victoria 9-0 in a road exhibition match.
“On paper, I think we are very technical and very fast,” Bugariu said in a news release. “We are a good and solid squad with good players in every position and maybe more than one player in some positions.”
UTRGV kicks off its season in the UTRGV Tournament beginning with a match against Miami (Florida) at 7 tonight and concluding with a game against Alabama State at 7 p.m. Saturday. The players are eager and excited to flex their muscles in front of a home crowd against the Hurricanes, who they defeated 2-1 in extra time on the road last season.
“We feel like this is a great opportunity and responsibility because we have to start well,” Bonney said. “This Miami team, those big teams I’ve experienced when we’ve played with them, we are eager to prove a point. But last year in the beginning we sat in just to get them frustrated and then we attacked later. I think we’re going to do the same thing this time around, but we are excited that people are going to come on out and we’re going to have full support.”