By Lyndsey Peace, Editor-in-Chief
The Hardin-Simmons University women’s soccer team has had an outstanding season. The team finished out strong by winning the regular season and winning the American Southwest Conference (ASC) tournament to be announced the conference champions.
Marcus Wood, head coach of the women’s soccer team, reflected back on the season with great pride for the team. However, Wood acknowledged that at the beginning of the season, the team struggled to come together.
“In 2017 and 2018 we had excellent graduating classes. So, this year we had a young, inexperienced team. We didn’t know what to expect, we just knew it was going to be a new bunch and it started off really slow,” Wood said.
Even though the team was younger, the newer players stepped up to the challenge as the season began. “The newer players were quick learners and we soon had 18 wins. It wasn’t 18 easy wins. It was a struggle along the way, but a lot of incredible games came from the players’ determination,” Wood said.
Wood gives a lot of credit to the senior players who helped the younger players learn. “Our senior leadership, including Kendell Groom, Taylor Bernal, Morgan McAdams and Michaela Sabrsula did a phenomenal job with a young team,” Wood said.
Although the team kept improving throughout the season, an unforeseeable challenge was the large number of players who became injured. “At the peak of the season we had six starters out with injuries. That was the Howard Payne and Sul-Ross weekend. To lose that many key players and to have different people step up at different times throughout the year says a lot about the character of the team,” Wood said.
Yet, even though the majority of starters were injured, the team held together and persevered to continue their winning streak. This is a testament to how the success of the team was due not to individual players, but to the team as a whole. “This team is about a lot more than just one player. Lots of players can step up and make things happen,” Wood said.
While the team as a whole had great success this season, there were a few players who earned awards to set them apart, including senior Taylor Bernal. “This was Bernal’s first year as a full time starter, and she was named Offensive MVP of the league and tournament MVP for the second year in a row. She grew from being a complementary player to being a player who carried a lot of weight and was our leading scorer by far,” Wood said.
Sophomore Madelyn Dowell also played an unexpected key role in the team’s scoring this season. “Dowell really helped out in the game on the attack. She ended up leading the conference in assists. Going into the year we planned on her being a defensive player, but when the attack struggled at the beginning of the season, we pushed her into a more offensive role,” Wood said.
Senior Michaela Sabrsula helped the attack come together and added to the overall success of the team’s scoring. “Michaela Sabrsula was the third piece of the attack. She really started creating a lot of plays, and the team transformed from a team that struggled to create much offensively to a team that was able to produce goals in big games,” Wood said.
Wood also recognized the freshmen and their surprising success this season. “The freshman had a much bigger role than we expected them to have. Haley Foley was a starter and goalkeeper who split time with Kayla Gable. Aurora Arevalo and Jessica Boldenow ended up starting a bunch of games as well. They each played either on defense or on the defensive midfield and each of them played a big role for us. Then Hayden Abor ended up being one of our top scorers and goal creators as a freshman,” Wood said.
Wood is proud of the team, not only for the success they achieved after a slow beginning, but also on a personal level for the dedication and character the players exhibited during the season. “To end up as the conference champions after a rough start was a great accomplishment for these ladies. I genuinely admire and respect every single one of these young ladies because they are people that we can all look up to,” Wood said.
Wood is looking forward to next season as the team continues to improve and grow in experience. “The future is very bright for the team. The majority of the team returns, so we will return the majority of our starting lineup. We will also have injured players back. While we were a young team last year, we will be a much more veteran team next year who is more experienced,” Wood said.
However, as HSU’s team practices for next season, Wood acknowledges that the team will have to prepare to beat their competitor’s returning players as well.
“The challenge remains that most of the other top teams in the conference, like UT Dallas, Mary-Hardin Baylor and McMurry return their roster as well so the 2020 conference season will be a hotly contested season,” Wood said.