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The Battalion

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

From freshmen to flagbearers

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Photo by Abbey Santoro

Texas A&M soccer Coach G Guerrieri says sophomores Laney Carroll and Barbara Olivieri are two of the fastest athletes on the team. 

The Biblical story of David and Goliath can oftentimes be compared to the real world, and when it comes to soccer, the “little guys” are unafraid to make their marks on the pitch.

As one of the most prestigious teams in the country, Texas A&M’s soccer program is in the business of creating successful competitors. The moment a player is recruited, the team’s development initiative begins, and incoming freshmen push their limits as they look to make an impact in the world of collegiate athletics, before doing the same for others as the cycle repeats itself.

The maroon and white most recently recorded one of its most successful seasons to date, notching both the SEC Co-Regular Season Championship as well as a spot in the NCAA Elite Eight. Across the team’s 17 games, freshmen scored 18 of A&M’s 33 goals. To put this statistic into perspective, the Aggies’s opponents combined to record only 15 against them during this time.

Sophomore midfielder Barbara Olivieri said she believes the entire season would have looked different for A&M if it weren’t for the Class of 2024’s contributions.

“All the freshmen seriously made an impact on our first year,” Olivieri said. “I’m really, really proud of what we were able to accomplish as a team, and I’m even prouder to be a part of the group that paved the way.”

Olivieri herself undoubtedly made her mark during her first year of college play, eventually landing the title of SEC Freshman of the Year, thanks in part to her team-leading eight goals and five assists. Other first-years, such as forward Lauren Geczik and midfielder Taylor Pounds, were not far behind.

As a result, the youngest players on the team arguably became the most integral. By the end of the NCAA Tournament in May, eight out of the 11 starters on the Aggies’s squad were underclassmen. Pounds said this helped solidify her personal confidence in the role she feels she is meant to play.

“I think it’s safe to say that I finally found my place on the team,” Pounds said. “I don’t feel out-of-place at all. I want to play a crucial role on this team as I continue to develop and keep improving, so becoming comfortable in the lineup was a really important step for me to take.”

En route to accomplishing this feat, Olivieri said some of the freshmen felt nervous as they began facing pressure to “make a name for themselves.” Many, including Olivieri, had to switch from the positions they previously played in high school to help fill gaps on the field.

Others were less anxious. For forward Laney Carroll, joining the maroon and white squad meant exposing herself to new opportunities which would allow her to develop as a person, the Spring native said.

“Honestly, I didn’t have any fears going into it,” Carroll said. “As soon as I stepped onto campus, I knew this was where I was meant to be. From there, there was this ‘go, go, go’ of excitement.”

Regardless of nerves, or lack thereof, the team’s upperclassmen helped all newcomers adjust. Carroll said this was the result of deeply rooted priorities within the soccer program itself.

“I think it’s really cool in the fact that I went in and developed so much as a player,” Carroll said. “You get there and the players and coaches are pushing you at every single practice to do your best. I think it was neat that there was so much growth, not just of me, but of all the freshmen. That’s something that our entire team does.”

With the help of seasoned veterans leading the team, Carroll and the others were able to smoothly transition to College Station. Nonetheless, challenges still presented themselves, Pounds said. Many of these were unlike anything the players had experienced throughout their athletic career.

“The speed of play was a huge learning curve for me,” Pounds said. “I am always checking my surroundings. The ball moves too fast, so you have to know what’s around you and what your options are.”

Olivieri seconded this claim, continuing to explain the hardships all freshmen joining A&M’s squad must overcome.

“On top of the speed of play, soccer at a collegiate level just demands more from you,” Olivieri said. “Physically, you have to be stronger and more in-shape. That makes training a lot harder and more intense.”

For athletes chasing the dream of playing professionally, the hard work is all worth it. Pounds said this is why the Aggies have eight new faces joining the team for the 2021 season, expanding the maroon and white to its largest lineup seen in years.

Carroll said she sees this growth as an opportunity to take on a greater leadership role on the team. In this way, she will continue the precedent set by Aggies before her.

“I hope I can mentor the new guppies like the upperclassmen did for me,” Carroll said. “I hope that they feel confident enough to trust me as a teammate and as a friend. That’s the Aggie soccer mentality — it’s a very different environment that’s honestly really special.”

For A&M to be successful in the coming season, it will have to make these adjustments quickly. The Aggies will have what might be the most difficult schedule in the team’s history.

Pounds said she is confident she, along with her fellow teammates, will be up for the challenge as they step into more experienced positions on the team that shake up the squad’s entire playing style.

“This year, we’re going to be very attack-focused,” Pounds said. “I think that will help us score a lot more goals. It’s going to be an exciting time for Aggie soccer and the 12th Man.”

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