Texas head coach Angela Kelly and her team walked off a damp Ellis Field in College Station in November.
Texas had just lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Notre Dame, who rallied back from 1–0 to defeat Texas 2–1, scoring the final goal in the 85th minute.
The Longhorns lost the game and six seniors with the defeat. Sharis Lachappelle, Cierra Grubbs, Julie Arnold, Brook Gilbert, Whitney Jaynes and Ava Vogel’s careers at Texas came to a bitter end.
Now, Kelly’s fourth season at Texas is set to begin with veteran team members and new faces.
“The girls are prepared, and the freshmen were some of the best talent on the field today,” Kelly said in an interview with “Longhorn Weekly with Charlie Strong” on Aug. 12.
Texas lost three key defenders from last season in Arnold, Gilbert and Jaynes. Last season, Arnold logged 2,157 minutes — every minute of the 2014 season — while Gilbert logged 2,142 minutes and Jaynes 1,933.
While the 2015 roster won’t boast the same seniority, a strong group of freshmen will work to fill the void.
The freshman class consists of midfielders Nakia Graham, Kayra Dollas and Katie Glenn; defenders Haleigh Guerra, Chelsea Surpris and Paige Hooper; and forward Alexa Adams.
The team is young, but it’s full of potential, according to Kelly.
“I’ve been really, really impressed with our freshmen class,” Kelly told Longhorn Network on Aug. 14. “The opening day, some of the best possessions, some of the best movements were from freshmen.”
The defense’s inexperience will be evident until the freshmen can adjust to NCAA soccer. Balancing it will be Texas’ 19 returning letter-winners and seven starters from last season. Of all those returning, senior goalkeeper Abby Smith is the undisputed leader.
“Abby has been a tremendous mainstay in the goal, she’s even more exceptional off the field, she’s continued to develop,” Kelly said. “She’s worked hard in the classroom as well as off the field.”
Smith knows she’s responsible for helping the freshmen acclimate.
“I feel like my role is just to help them understand the difference between club and college,” Smith said. “Also, the returning players, [it] is just giving them the confidence that we have your back, and we’re there to support you.”
Kelly, too, holds her to high standards.
“She will be the future of U.S. soccer in the goalkeeping position,” Kelly said. “It wouldn’t be denied around the country. She is just that good.”
Even with her coach’s compliments, Smith remains humble.
“At the end of the day, you still have to be humble because you still have to get there,” Smith said. “It’s nice to hear it, but there’s still a long journey ahead.”
Along their 2015 journey, the Longhorns are scheduled to play five top-25 teams. First, Texas will play No. 5 North Carolina on Friday. On Sept. 6, ut will travel to California to face a potent No. 12 UCLA. But perhaps the Longhorns’ biggest test will be when they travel to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on No. 15 West Virginia — the defending Big 12 champions.
Smith’s final journey with Texas began last weekend at the Charleston Nike Classic. After the Longhorns’ game Saturday against Clemson was canceled because of weather, they set their eyes on the Miami Hurricanes on Sunday.
In a tightly knit match, at the 60th minute, Smith punted the ball — the wind at her back and the goal 90 yards away. Miami’s goalkeeper was off her line, and when the ball bounced over her head, the goal was in the books before it was in the net.
Texas’ long journey back to the NCAA tournament started with a long shot and a 1–0 victory.