When the nightmare that was the 2011 season finally ended, TWU soccer coach Fleur Benatar knew her program required a complete makeover.
So she immediately went to work, changing how she was going to coach, adding a new assistant coach, redirecting her recruiting efforts and revamping most of the roster for 2012.
“We had to clean house,” said Benatar, entering her 11th season at TWU. “We had a new dynamic to bring. I needed to make sure that everybody who came in this year was on board with us.”
To help erase the memories of last year’s 1-14-3 season, Benatar added 12 freshmen and six transfers to a roster that includes 11 letter winners from a year ago. Among those returning are four of last year’s top five scorers, led by All-Lone Star Conference players Brittany Martin, Brittany Wispell and Beatrice Soto.
Benatar expects the transfers, including two who were part of conference championship teams and one who earned NJCAA All-America honorable mention, to make an immediate impact.
Benatar said her freshmen “are eager to be here” and possess the talent to drastically improve the Pioneers’ depth while competing for starting jobs this year.
“My goal is to create an entirely new environment for this program,” Benatar said. “We’re trying to push the aggressive, attacking mind-set. I want the team to have ownership and desire and responsibility.”
Because of last year’s offensive struggles, Benatar decided to emphasize attacking the net and shooting over last year’s scheme of ball control and passing.
The Pioneers were outscored last year by a whopping 41-17 margin and scored two or more goals in just three games, two of which were losses. They suffered five shutout losses and seven one-goal defeats.
The Pioneers led at halftime four times last season but went 0-3-1 in those games. Three times TWU gave up game-winning goals in the final nine minutes of play.
But perhaps the game that best reflects just how frustrating 2011 was for TWU was an Oct. 21 battle against Abilene Christian, which was No. 2 in the nation at the time. The Pioneers played well on both ends of the field in the opening half and were leading 1-0 at the break, but ACU went on to win 2-1.
“Last year we had a [small] roster, so everybody getting tired in games was a problem,” said Martin, a senior forward who led the Pioneers with five goals and was named second-team All-LSC. “We didn’t have the subs to keep us going.
“It was really hard,” Martin added. “But now we have a deeper roster and everybody has something to bring to the team. We’re putting last year behind us. We’re excited about this new year and excited about everybody being here.”
Returning regulars Katy Black, Meredith Molge and Jillian Fuerman bolster TWU’s midfield. Ryan product Taylor Maxson returns to her hometown after one year at East Tennessee State (14 games, two starts) to strengthen the line along with transfers Allison Rupp (Ouachita Baptist), Mariel Parra (Navarro College) and twins Ashley and Amanda Fry, who began their careers at Incarnate Word.
Another incoming transfer is sophomore goalkeeper Lindsey Sisco, who arrives from Middle Tennessee and is expected to compete with Soto for the starting job.
“We recruited a new type of girl,” Benatar said. “We went back to the kind of girls that I had in this program originally — extremely hardworking, extremely dedicated to the school and willing to dedicate their college career to being an athlete.”
Black, one of three players who started all 18 games last year for TWU, is most excited about the freshmen and the impact they could make this season.
“They’ve been unbelievable,” said the senior from Flower Mound. “They’re strong and they’re ready to play. They’re excited to play. And us seniors, we’re looking at it, and if they’re excited, we’re even more excited.”
TWU opens the season with two home matches, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Dallas Baptist and 2 p.m. Monday against Ouachita Baptist.
Four light poles were installed this summer at the TWU Soccer Field to allow the Pioneers to play night games for the first time in the program’s 11-year history. TWU will host five night games this season. To commemorate the new lights, TWU will give free “Flip the Switch” T-shirts to the first 150 fans attending Saturday night’s season opener. ... Senior defender Jesseca Olmstead will sit out this season to recover from a knee injury. ... Freshman midfielder Lauren Smith joins Maxson on the team as former Ryan standouts. ... Erin Bolinger, a redshirt freshman defender, is back after sitting out last year while recovering from two heart surgeries. ... Forward Brittany Rogers likely will be the team’s oldest freshman. The academic junior previously attended Texas-Arlington. ... Junior forward Emily Davila is back after taking her sophomore year off. ... Babak Abouzar has joined the staff as Benatar’s primary assistant coach.
TWU QUICK FACTS
Head coach: Fleur Benatar
Career record: 56-109-21 (10 seasons at TWU)
Conference: Lone Star (NCAA Division II)
Home park: TWU Soccer Field
2011 record: 1-14-3 (1-12-1 LSC)