TWU makes its fourth appearance in the Lone Star Conference’s soccer championship tournament Thursday with the primary goal of winning a first-round game for the first time in the program’s 11-year history.
Head coach Fleur Benatar, the only coach the Pioneers (7-9-2, 6-7-1) have had, believes the time is right for TWU to notch that initial LSC tournament win.
“I think we’re going to be ready,” she said. “I think the team is happy that it’s Angelo State who we play first. I think they’ll be ready to go.”
TWU faces the Rambelles (10-7-1, 8-5-1) in a noon kickoff matching the No. 6 and No. 3 seeds in the six-team, single-elimination tournament.
In their three previous trips to the LSC championships, the Pioneers faced Texas A&M-Commerce each time. TWU is yet to win an opening-round game in the tournament — all ending in regulation in ties — although the Pioneers did advance to the second round in 2005 and 2009 on penalty kicks.
This year TWU and Angelo State split the two games they’ve played, with each side winning at home. The Pioneers won 2-1 on Sept. 23, with a pair of second-half goals, including the game-winner off the foot of Sara Alvarez with less than 10 minutes remaining. On Oct. 5, in San Angelo, the Rambelles pulled out a 1-0 win.
“The last Angelo game we haven’t been discussing a lot,” Benatar said. “Their goalkeeper played really well, but we probably should have won that game. We had good chances to win the game. Their keeper just played really well, so that’s a driving force for us to come back and play them again and show people that we should have beat them two times.”
The Pioneers come into the tournament off a 1-0 home victory over Texas A&M-Commerce on Saturday in their final regular-season game. The win stopped a two-game losing streak and was vital to putting the Pioneers in a positive frame of mind for the tournament, of which West Texas A&M is the host school.
“It was huge,” Benatar said of the win over Texas A&M-Commerce. “In my opinion, it was essential that we got that win to go into the tournament confident. The team played great. We wanted to play well in front of our home crowd, and we did that. The energy was high, which is what we need to carry on into the tournament.”
The winner of Thursday’s first-round game advances to play No. 2 seed Incarnate Word on Friday.
All tournament games will be aired live via video streaming online on the LSC website, www.LoneStarConference.org. … TWU owns a record of 0-2-3 in its previous tournament games. … The conference is scheduled to announce its 2012 all-conference team today.
Senior hitter Viktorija Jablonska showed her versatility last weekend to keep the Pioneers rolling along with two more wins.
Jablonska registered back-to-back triple-doubles in wins over Midwestern State and Cameron as the Pioneers improved to 18-6 overall and 12-4 in Lone Star Conference play.
Jablonska’s fifth and sixth triple-doubles of the season came as the result of her having to fill in defensively while several players were sidelined with illnesses.
“Viktorija had to step in and set and wound up with two triple-doubles,” said head coach Shelly Barberee, whose team remains at home this week with games Thursday (7 p.m.) against St. Edward’s and Saturday (2 p.m.) against Abilene Christian.
“She hasn’t been setting recently; her role has been more of a hitter. But when she had to step in and set, in both games, she got triple-doubles.
She finished with 17 kills, 10 assists and 10 digs in Friday’s 3-1 victory over Midwestern. The next day, Jablonska totaled 15 kills, 25 assists and 12 digs as the Pioneers swept Cameron.
Barberee says she hopes that Jablonska’s display of multiple skills on the court will work in her favor when it comes voting time for LSC Player of the Year.
Jablonska won the award last year while leading the league in kills and is still among the leaders in that category this season, although she has fewer kills than a year ago.
“We have more dynamic attackers to go to this year, so she doesn’t have as many kills,” Barberee said. “However, last year she didn’t serve at all, and this year she’s still in the top 15 in aces.
And she didn’t set at all or play defense last year, so hopefully her play this year will show more depth to her game.”
Prior to Thursday’s game, a Faculty/Staff Appreciation ceremony will be held, in which a player and their favorite TWU faculty or staff member will be recognized. … Following Saturday’s game, the Pioneers coaching staff and players will conduct a free youth clinic for boys and girls in the eighth grade or younger. Participants must complete a registration/waiver form available prior to the game in the Kitty Magee Arena lobby. … The 12 conference victories posted by TWU are the most for the Pioneers in Shelly Barberee’s 10-year tenure as head coach. … Thursday’s game against St. Edward’s is a nonconference contest, thanks to an open date that Barberee was able to fill with a regional opponent.