After struggling at times throughout the season, the TWU soccer team appears to have turned the corner and peaked at the right time heading into the Lone Star Conference tournament.
The Pioneers won or tied three of their final four regular-season matches and enter the tournament as the No. 6 seed.
"We have everybody healthy," TWU coach Babak Abouzar said. "I think the mind-set is really good after showing what we can do. The team mentality moving forward is really positive, and I think they're excited."
TWU is coming off a dominant 7-2 win over Texas-Permian Basin and hung with No. 9 Angelo State in a 1-0 loss Friday. Those were just the latest showings of the team's late-season resurgence.
"I was very pleased, starting with the Angelo game," Abouzar said. "I think that was one of our better games as far as creating chances. That was very good to see; we just needed to finish some. I think we saw that pay off on Saturday. To score seven goals was really big, and that's a momentum builder we needed."
Now the Pioneers will look to carry that momentum into Wednesday's first-round matchup on the road against No. 3 seed West Texas A&M. TWU tied 1-1 against West Texas this season and won a thrilling 3-2 overtime game over the Lady Buffs on Oct. 22 in Denton.
That success has the Pioneers feeling confident in a win-or-go-home situation.
"They're a quality team," Abouzar said. "They're a team that brings some different things at you that you have to make sure you're on your 'A' game against. But I really like our chances in the first round of the tournament."
If TWU wins today, the team will advance to face Texas A&M-Commerce in the semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday at Angelo State. The final is set for 1 p.m. Sunday at ASU.
"Even though we are the underdogs, so to speak, I don't think there is anyone in the conference that wants to play us," Abouzar said. "I think we're firing on all cylinders right now. The way we can attack teams and come at them is really dangerous coming into the tournament."
TWU looks to bounce back from tough losses as season winds down
For the first time in a few weeks, TWU had a tough stretch of games while struggling against conference opponents in A&M-Commerce and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
But as the season winds down, TWU coach Jeff Huebner was still able to take positives out of the losses.
The Pioneers continue to see improvement from a solid young core of sophomores, led by Courtney Noel and Katy Ranes, among others. Noel is third on the team with 213 kills, while Ranes leads the Conference with 1,031 assists.
"We have the right kids and right people to make it work," Huebner said. "We made some really big strides from a leadership perspective this weekend. Those are the things that aren't measured."
The Pioneers hope that young leadership will help guide them through what may be the toughest road trip of the season. TWU travels to take on Western New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico this weekend for its final road matches of the season.
The two New Mexico schools have lost a combined five matches at home this year and provide a particularly difficult challenge to LSC schools that play the teams on back-to-back nights.
"The stark reality is everybody has to do it," Huebner said. "Whoever can grab some wins out there puts themselves in position to be near the top of conference. The environment isn't really tough; it's just the travel."
Before making the trip, TWU hosted Midwestern State on Tuesday night in what was an important match for getting back on track in LSC play. The Pioneers entered the week having lost five of their last six.
The Mustangs knocked off the Pioneers in straight sets in September, and TWU bounced back with five consecutive wins in conference play.
"Just about every game is important at this stage," Huebner said. "Midwestern State is a good volleyball team. We owe them a debt of gratitude because the way they beat us last time pushed us to dive into our five-game winning streak."