Four straight road games to open the season have made returning home for three games this week exciting for the TWU soccer team, which finally gets to play on its home turf.
“Playing four games on the road is always tough,” first-year head coach Babak Abouzar said. “You have a different routine when it comes to staying in a hotel, eating and traveling to the games. I feel like being home will bring a new energy to everybody”
The 1-3 Pioneers make their home debut at 7:30 tonight against East Central at the TWU Soccer Field. The team then will host Harding at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Northwestern Oklahoma State at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“The girls are really excited to be playing in front of their friends and family and their classmates,” Abouzar said.
After this weekend, the Pioneers will play six of their next eight games on the road, including their Lone Star Conference opener at West Texas A&M on Sept. 27.
Scoring falls off
After exploding for five goals in a season-opening victory over Texas A&M International, TWU continues to find shots, although few are making it to the back of the net.
In its last three games combined, TWU has scored just two goals and been shut out once. Last weekend, the Pioneers dropped a 2-1 decision at Ouachita Baptist that was followed by a 1-0 loss at Central Oklahoma.
The Pioneers outshot UCO 9-8.
“The opportunities are there,” Abouzar said. “We’ve done a great job of creating scoring chances. It’s just a matter of us finishing and putting the ball in the back of the net. It’s just a matter of focusing on our final pass on the offensive end and finishing the play.”
TWU’s early schedule included a matchup against St. Edwards, ranked 20th at the time, on Sept. 8. The Pioneers were outshot by a 20-2 margin in a 3-1 loss.
Barberee pleased with tournament showing
While Colorado’s thin air may have caught up with the Pioneers last weekend at the Oredigger Volleyball Classic, TWU coach Shelly Barberee was pleased to come home with a 2-2 split from the two-day tournament.
Conditions were particularly challenging Friday as TWU fell to Grand Valley State, which received votes in last week’s Division II poll, in a grueling five-set match and then dropped a three-set match to No. 19 Colorado School of Mines.
TWU earned the split by bouncing back Saturday and defeating Western Oregon and Fort Lewis.
“I learned that we are not prepared for altitude,” Barberee said. “The air is thinner and it’s more difficult to breathe. We opened with an extremely long match and then had to play an hour and a half after that. We were just out of gas, and it wasn’t because we were out of shape.”
Tournament officials could only schedule a one-hour practice for the Pioneers on Thursday after they arrived in Golden, Colo. Barberee ran her team through some additional conditioning drills, but it wasn’t enough for the players to get adjusted to the thin air.
“You can’t go up there and have a one-hour practice and adjust to it,” Barberee said. “We ran outside of practice, but we’re just not used to it. We had been jogging for five minutes and the girls said it felt like they had run four miles.”
Returning Saturday to claim two victories was a good sign for the Pioneers as they turned their focus on opening Lone Star play Tuesday night against Texas A&M-Commerce.
“We played the caliber of teams that we need to be playing now,” Barberee said. “We went 2-2 against high-caliber teams.”
TWU on road to avoid layoff
Last spring when the Lone Star schedule came out, TWU’s bye weekend on the first week of play put the Pioneers in the awkward position of looking for nonconference matches to avoid what would have been a 10-day layoff between contests.
All LSC teams opened league play Tuesday, but TWU is one of two members that will have this weekend off from conference competition. Each LSC team gets one bye weekend.
“Our first weekend happens to hit on our bye weekend, which is not good for us,” Barberee said.
As a result, TWU will travel to Arkansas this weekend to play four games at the Mary Beth Sudduth Invitational. The Pioneers will face Washburn and host Arkansas-Fort Smith on Friday before playing Harding and Southern Nazarene on Saturday.
“I thought if everyone else is going to be playing conference games on Friday and Saturday, we could go play some more high-caliber teams,” Barberee said.
Washburn is ranked in the top five in Division II, while Fort Smith also is ranked. Harding and TWU have received poll votes this season.
“We’ve got to do well against these kinds of teams to do well in our rankings,” Barberee said.
TWU will return to Kitty Magee Arena on Oct. 4 against Texas A&M-Kingsville.