For the first time in program history, TWU has a different head coach heading into the soccer season, although his voice, coaching style and philosophies aren’t really new to the Pioneer players.
Babak Abouzar inherited a young squad coming off one of its best seasons when he took over in July from Fleur Benetar, who built the program from its beginning 11 years ago. That Abouzar was Benetar’s No. 1 assistant in 2012, when the Pioneers went 7-10-2 and advanced to the Lone Star Conference tournament for the fourth time, has made his transition to head coach virtually seamless.
“I don’t think a lot has changed,” Abouzar said. “We’re still running the same system that we did last year. Even though there’s a change in the face of the program, all the concepts are the same in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The Pioneers kick off the 2013 season this weekend with two games in a tournament hosted by St. Edward’s in Austin. TWU will face Texas A&M International on Friday and St. Edward’s on Sunday.
“It hasn’t been much of an adjustment,” sophomore defender and co-captain Erin Bolinger said. “Fleur and Babak worked well together, and he’s continued a lot of things we did with Fleur. Our practices aren’t much different and our style of play is basically the same.”
There will be plenty of new faces in TWU uniforms this season on a roster that includes 11 true freshmen and three incoming transfers. Only two seniors — midfielder and co-captain Mariel Parra and transfer Tareyn Blanton, a defender from Texas A&M-Commerce — are on the roster.
While the Pioneers probably will have to rely on contributions from some of the freshmen, TWU does return five of the 12 players who scored goals last season. Junior forward Emily Davila is the top returning point producer, notching two goals and a pair of assists a year ago. Junior forward Candice Davies also scored two goals last season but will be sidelined with an injury for the early portion of the schedule.
Bolinger, who started all 19 games for the Pioneers in 2012, notched one goal, as did Parra and sophomore defender Haleigh Wanzer.
Abouzar has tweaked the Pioneers’ offensive scheme this year so more scorers can attack the net. A year ago, Brittany Martin dominated TWU’s firepower by scoring a team-leading 10 goals — seven more than the second-highest scorer.
“Starting off it’s going to be scoring by committee,” Abouzar said. “There really hasn’t been one person who has stood out and shown that she can consistently put the ball in the back of the net.
“I was a defender when I played, but I know you’ve got to score to win,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about putting the ball in the back of the net. I think the formation that Fleur and I implemented last year really helped us score more goals. This season, fans can expect us to play a creative and attractive style of play that will bring about more goals.”
Bolinger returns as the anchor of a four-player defensive line. She’ll be joined by other defensive regulars from a year ago, including sophomores Sara Deeb, Ryleigh Spivey and Kailey Tue.
In goal, junior Lindsey Sisco drew starts in 18 of the team’s 19 games last season, finishing with 62 saves and a 1.46 goals-against average. But this year’s starting job isn’t a given, as sophomore Ariana Morrison, a Trophy Club product who arrives after a season at Central Oklahoma, is battling for playing time.
“She’s been a pleasant surprise,” Abouzar said of Morrison. “As good as Lindsey is, we knew we needed to get somebody to come in and compete with her and keep her on top of her game. I think Lindsey has welcomed the challenge.”
Of the large freshman class, Abouzar likes what he’s seen from Alisa Velasquez, who can play the forward and midfield positions. A native of Grand Prairie, Velasquez possesses good speed and isn’t shy about battling for ball possession.
“Her work ethic and her desire to make things happen on offense are very good,” Abouzar said. “And in our conference speed can set you apart from other players. She’s small, but she doesn’t let that get in the way of her going after players, pressuring defenders and winning the ball back.”
The freshman class also includes Guyer product Tatianna Hernandez, who will be battling for playing time as a defender.
TWU opens the season with four road games before returning to Pioneer Field for a three-game homestand that includes matches against East Central (Sept. 18), Harding (Sept. 20) and Northwestern Oklahoma State (Sept. 22).
PIONEERS / Quick Facts
Conference: Lone Star
Head Coach: Babak Abouzar (first season)
2012 Overall Record: 7-10-2 (6-7-1 in conference)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 13/14
Starters Returning/Lost: 7/4
Key Players: D Erin Bolinger, F Emily Davila, D Ryleigh Spivey, D Sara Deeb, GK Lindsey Nelson, F Alisa Velasquez.
Stadium: Pioneer Field