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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

A&M soccer aims for success

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Photo by Abbey Santoro

The Aggies are entering the 2021 season with a stacked roster of returning standouts and fresh new faces. 

With the fall season quickly approaching, all eyes are on Texas A&M soccer and what the young team may accomplish.

A&M finished its 2020 season with a final record of 12-4-1, going 7-1 in SEC competition and remaining undefeated while playing at Ellis Field. The team claimed the SEC Co-Regular Season Championship in the fall, then advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before eventually falling to then-No. 2 North Carolina. The “season of breaking records,” cut short of a national title, is still largely considered to be a success by almost every metric.

Team co-captain Katie Smith, a junior defender, said the team plans on repeating this success every year going forward.

“That should be the new minimum,” Smith said. “We want to go even further, so I think that’s the new expectation we have for ourselves. Last year was a great experience that will push us to do even better next season.”

With the NCAA Tournament taking place in May for the first time in collegiate history, A&M head coach G Guerrieri said his players’ minds and bodies were pushed to their absolute limits by the end of the season. This dictated the need for the players to recuperate before preparing for the fall.

“I asked the players to take some serious time off,” Guerrieri said. “We need them to get some serious rest and time to recover physically and mentally from such a long season. They will ease back into the grind of the new year when most of the team returns to campus in July.”

However, the Aggies will not have long to prepare. A&M’s upcoming schedule promises to be one of the most difficult in the nation and holds potential to be the maroon and white’s toughest year to date. The team’s first three matchups are all against squads that advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight in May — Florida State, TCU and Clemson. The Aggies will also have to face SEC Co-Regular Season Champion Arkansas, as well as Vanderbilt, the reigning SEC Tournament champion.

Smith said the squad’s newest additions will have to quickly find their place on the team and step up if A&M wants to remain competitive against the intense lineup of opponents.

“We were able to go as far as we did last year because our team is so young,” Smith said. “We know that we’re going to get the same quality of players that we have, and maybe even better, with the eight coming in. They’ll fit right in and meet expectations, no matter how old they are.”

The incoming freshmen are not the only players looking to make adjustments. Forward Barbara Olivieri, last season’s SEC Freshman of the Year, said the more experienced players will still need to develop themselves further for the upcoming season.

“Even though I’m a returning player, I still feel like I have some stuff to work on,” Olivieri said. “I want to get better at turning and driving out the defenders. If I do that, and keep perfecting my striking and finishing, I think I can become a much better player.”

One adjustment players like Olivieri will have to make is based on the league’s scheduling criteria. Last season was split into two halves due to COVID-19, with the SEC Tournament played in the fall and the NCAA Tournament in the spring. This meant that the Aggies only had to play one game per week instead of the two seen in a regular year.

Last year also featured a slimmer lineup for the maroon and white, with only 20 athletes on the roster. Guerrieri said he is confident that the team moving to a fuller size of 27 players will be enough to deal with the more rigorous schedule.

“I’m not worried about the players’ transition back into a more traditional NCAA fall season,” Guerrieri said. “Now that we have built such a great depth into the roster, I think playing more than one game a week won’t be as debilitating as it was last season.”

Smith agreed with her coach, claiming the more exhausting schedule format may actually benefit the team in the long run.

“As a team, we mainly focus on ourselves rather than making adjustments to other teams,” Smith said. “We prepare for ourselves, not for other teams. It’s very special that we get to do that, especially because other schools may struggle with that.”

Along with season breakdown changes, the pandemic brought fan occupancy restrictions which many believe impacted team energy and play success across the country. The upcoming season will see a return to full-attendance stadium standards. This includes the revival of A&M’s annual Fish Camp Game, one of the most-attended collegiate soccer games in the nation.

Guerrieri said this will allow the stars to “perfectly align” so that Aggie fans in the Brazos Valley and beyond can fully enjoy the fall as the maroon and white push toward a return to normalcy in collegiate athletics.

“The 12th Man can be really excited about being back at Ellis Field this season,” Guerrieri said.  “We have a very talented team ready to defend our SEC [Co-Regular Season] Championship and try to put ourselves in position to again compete for a national championship in December.”

A&M’s season will open in Tallahassee, Fla. on Aug. 19. The team will kick things off back in College Station the following week on Saturday, Aug. 28. Though the kickoff time had not been officially announced as of presstime, fans can begin preparing for the homecoming celebration. Ticketing information is available at 12thMan.com/SoccerTickets.

Olivieri said fans should take advantage of the team’s 10 home games as they set up what will likely become an experience nobody wants to miss.

“Freshman year was a great time,” Olivieri said. “Now it’s time to go out there for another successful season, but this one should have even more wins and titles than last year. I’m pretty positive that will happen.”

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