Chris Petrucelli

Soccer

Freshman defender Julie Arnold (37) dribbles past a Seattle University player in a game last week. Arnold has started every game this year.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

This will be the final time the Longhorns can prove they are in the same league competitively with the Aggies. Last season Texas fought through two overtimes to draw 1-1 with their oldest rivals at home. It is not just the seniors who will be saying goodbye at the end of the game.

“I think it will be a very good game,” said head coach Chris Petrucelli. “It is such a big rivalry. It doesn’t matter what you are play for or the Big 12 standings. The game itself just takes on its own life, because it is Texas vs. Texas A&M.”

The Aggies hold the lead in the series with a record of 17-5-2, and with their departure to the Southeastern Conference next semester, this could be the Longhorn’s last shot to prove their abilities on the field where it counts.

This season the Aggies are 12-5-1 and 5-1-1 in conference play. While they are far from the sixth-ranked team they were when the teams met last, the Aggies have still commanded the pitch throughout a tough conference schedule.

“They are talented,” Petrucelli said about Texas A&M. “They always are ... and they always give a great effort. I think it will be an intense match.”

Their only loss came at the hands of the University of Missouri on the road and a draw at home to Oklahoma State University, then the No. 2 team in the country. The Aggies are currently unranked nationally, but are second in Big 12 Conference standings behind Oklahoma State.

With their 1-0 shutout win against nonconference opponent Seattle University, the Longhorns have earned a 10-win season for the 11th time in 12 seasons. Their record stands at 10-6-1 going into tonight’s game with a 3-3-1 Big 12 Conference record. They are unranked nationally and fifth in the Big 12.

“We’ve played well recently,” Petrucelli said. “The record sometimes shows it; sometimes, it doesn’t. We feel good at where we are at. We have a big game coming up, a hard game coming up, but we will be ready.”

Despite being unranked, this year’s group of Longhorns has made quite an impact on the Texas record books.

Junior goalkeeper Alexa Gaul moved up to second place on the Longhorns’ career shutout list with her 18th career shutout. She trails the current record holder Dianna Pfenninger by 11 games. Gaul has also moved in to second place for career goalie victories with 29, again trailing Pfenniger, who had 54 wins during her career that spanned from 2005 to 2008.

Senior midfielder Kylie Doniak is currently ranked 87th out of all upperclassmen in the country by Soccer America, up from her 93rd rank from last season. Her 18 career goals place her 10th in the Texas career record books and she is ranked ninth in career assists with 17.

“We have worked really hard together,” said senior forward Taylor Knaack. “We’ve pushed each other, and we were all committed ... We have come together and worked really hard ... and it is showing on the field.”

Nina Frausing Pedersen’s road to Texas was a long one.

As in 7,230 miles-long, the approximate distance between Auckland, New Zealand and Austin.

While the sophomore defender is a native of Silkeborg, Denmark, the prospect of playing for the Longhorns came about during the 2008 FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup in New Zealand.

The Danish international dreamed of coming to America to continue her soccer career and she turned to Facebook, of all places, to make that dream a reality.

After the tournament, Frausing Pedersen sent a friend request to U-17 U.S. World Cup goalkeeper, Alexa Gaul, whom she had never met and who just happened to be the goalie for the Longhorns.

“We had no idea who each of us was,” Gaul said. “I remember we were in the same hotel at one point, but I had no idea who she was.”

At that point, Frausing Pedersen was simply looking for more information on how to contact coaches and the possibility of playing collegiately.

“I was just like, ‘you can talk to my coach, here’s his email,’” Gaul said. “And it all worked out. We just built a friendship over Facebook and just communicated through that and she just ended up coming here, which was awesome.”

The friendship grew so strong that the two have since become roommates.

“We talk about everything on the field and leave everything on the field,” Frausing Pedersen said. “But we can be straight up with each other if we need anything. She’ll tell me what to do and I’ll do it, and afterwards we can go talk about it if we want something done differently. But we have a really good relationship.”

After Texas head coach Chris Petrucelli made the trek to Denmark to see Frausing Pedersen play, he knew she had to come to Texas. Ultimately, in a choice between Stanford and Texas, she chose the Longhorns and Petrucelli credits Texas’ persistent recruiting in convincing her.

“I was excited when I watched her play,” Petrucelli said. “I saw someone who was really good athletically, solid technically and a hard worker.”

But Petrucelli acknowledges that there are some difficulties in recruiting international players, such as not being able to see them play often or differences in academic standards.

“There are culture issues and whether or not they want to go that far from home,” Petrucelli said. “I will say that Nina, early in her freshman year, struggled with some homesickness.”

But her team was always there for her.

“Our team took to Nina right away and they were certainly looking out for her and protecting her early on, but I’ll tell you what — right now, it’s almost like she’s a Texan with a Danish accent,”
Petrucelli said.

Now in her second year, things have become easier for Frausing Pedersen. She knows her teammates better and she’s more comfortable with the language and with Austin. She‘s more confident in her ability and has earned the trust of Petrucelli, who has put her in his starting 11 every match this season.

The Dane, who began playing soccer at age 4 because of her father, even scored her first goal as a Longhorn in a 2-1 victory over Iowa State. That, according to her, was her greatest accomplishment during her time in Austin.

Along with providing stability to the backline, Frausing Pedersen showed her versatility last Sunday against Seattle University when Petrucelli asked the central defender to start at forward, something she had never done before.

“We’re making it a little hard on her by moving her all around, but I thought she did well up front,” Petrucelli said. “But she has the ability to play at a number of different spots and she’s good at all of them.”

Despite the accolades, Frausing Pedersen remains grounded. She understands that the expectations for this team, and for her personally, are high. She also feels that there is more to accomplish this season.

“This year we have such a good team, so I think we can win the Big 12,” Frausing Pedersen said. “And hopefully we can go further than last year in the NCAA. But [the goal] is to win the Big 12.”

For Frausing Pedersen, who admits that she still misses her friends and family back in Denmark, life has become a little easier. And in only her second year, her future as a Longhorn looks bright.

“She’s certainly going to be one of our better players and a leader here over the next couple of years,” Petrucelli said. “I think we’re just starting to see the beginning of a really talented player.” 

Texas forward Vanessa Ibewuike fights for position in the LonghornsÂ’ 2-0 win over Dartmouth Sunday. It was the second straight match Ibewuike scored and TexasÂ’ fifth consecutive victory.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

It was not just the 100-degree heat and gusting winds that bothered the Texas offense on Sunday, but also Dartmouth’s defense. The Big Green was willing to park the bus in an effort to slow down Texas’ possession style attack.

“They made it hard for us, they were really organized,” said Texas head coach Chris Petrucelli. “They prevented us from playing short balls into the middle which we like to do.”

However, the Longhorns were patient and it paid off with two goals late in the first and second halves as Texas went on to win 2-0.

The first goal was scored by this weekend’s star, junior Vanessa Ibewuike, who found the back of the net twice in as many games. A sub, Ibewuike adds explosiveness and power to the Texas offense when she enters to the game.

“I saw her about to service so I just took off running and luckily it deflected off the defender’s head,” Ibewuike said of her goal. “And it went straight to me and all I had to do is get a foot on it.”

The second half was more of the same and Dartmouth was unable to muster much of an attack against the Longhorns. This may have been because of Texas’ ability to hold onto the ball and force the Big Green to chase.

With 17 players playing significant time for the Horns, Texas was able to wear down Dartmouth and the match started to present Texas opportunities late in the second half.

Ibewuike set up the second goal with a wonderful cross that Hannah Higgins finished for her first goal of the season. Higgins had another opportunity to score in the 87th minute, but Dartmouth keeper Tatiana Saunders made an excellent save to keep the score at 2-0.

The win was Texas’ fifth straight after starting off the season with a loss. The major change for Texas has been the defense that has only given up one goal during their current five game-winning streak.

“I feel like we have been solid in the back, even today we didn’t really give up a goal or scoring chances,” Petrucelli said.

The foundation of the defense has been keeper Alexa Gaul, who had three saves and a shutout on Sunday. The junior goalie is now tied with Jamie Strong and Cami Varnadore for the second most career shutouts.

Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Ibewuike establishes herself as reliable scoring threat in Horns win

Sophmore Lexi Harris has had a huge impact on the Longhorns this season, starting in every game thus far, whie contributing to two goals this year.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

From the stands, Lexi Harris looks just like every other player on the Longhorn’s bench. She’s quick, makes good decisions on the field and loves to win. But this sophomore midfielder from Plano will surprise you.

Up close and personal, Harris likes a challenge and lives for the physical and mental toughness that soccer brings to the table.

“The sport requires so much from you physically and mentally,” Harris said. “No matter how good you become, the sport never ceases to push you to your limits.”

In high school, Harris racked up a long list of accolades. From the Texas stage, Harris helped to lead Plano West High School to a 5A State Championship in 2007.

In 2008, she was an Under-17 Women’s World Cup Finalist before going on to become a member of the United States Under-20 Women’s National Team. 

Texas head coach Chris Petrucelli recruited Harris heavily in high school. Top Drawer Soccer labeled her as the No. 1 recruit in Texas and No. 2 recruit nationally in 2010.

She didn’t stop once she got to college. As a freshman, Harris started in 18 of 21 games for the Longhorns and was named to the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team. So far this season, Harris has started all four games at midfielder and has accounted for two Texas scores.

Her motivation to work hard and to win is what sets her apart. Harris is the first of her family to go to college and credits soccer with providing her the opportunities she has at Texas.

“It just opens up everything for me,” Harris said. “I never had goals or anything like that. I am able to dream now. Soccer is my gateway to going where I want to go.”

Harris wants to finish college as an exercise science major before going to grad school to become a physical therapist. After that? Not even she knows.  

The Longhorns are a long way from home in Chapel Hill, N.C., for the first round of the NCAA Championship against James Madison University.

After a tough loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 playoffs, the Longhorns are, once again, looking to their defense to lead the way. They haven’t made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament since 2008.

“We need to be really in tune defensively,” said head coach Chris Petrucelli. “JMU is a little tricky.”

The Longhorns, who received an at-large bid in the tournament, hold a 6-8-1 record in NCAA Championship action and have advanced to the Round of 16 three times since 2004.

With only seven goals allowed and five shutouts in conference play, Petrucelli is confident that the defense, led by Big 12 second team senior Erica Campanelli, can give the Longhorns an advantage.

“All year we have been strong defensively,” Petrucelli said. “We have been stingy defensively, we’ve been hard to score against. We have been very organized in the back, and I think that’s been our biggest strength this year.”

James Madison won its third straight Colonial Athletic Association championship this season and are coming off an eight-game undefeated streak.

Teresa Rynier leads the team with 29 points off nine goals and 11 assists and the team has eight shutouts this season. In 21 games, the Dukes have scored 38 goals and Texas has scored 29 in 20 games.

With JMU goalie Diane Wszalek, the Longhorns will have to pick it up offensively.

“I think a big key for us is how dangerous are we going forward and really taking advantage of the opportunities that we get,” Petrucelli said.

Petrucelli said the team could be better going forward and have been practicing keeping possession of the ball and staying fresh. Although disappointed with their first round exit in the Big 12 playoffs, the team is not focusing on that loss.

“I think all year long we have looked forward, and we have talked about not looking back,” Petrucelli said. “We were disappointed with our play against Oklahoma, but we got past it and now we’re moving forward again.” 

Texas is back in the NCAA tournament after a one-year hiatus and will face James Madison in the opening round on Friday in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“At this time of the year, your goal is to get into the tournament,” Texas head coach Chris Petrucelli said. “We’re excited to be in it, and we’re excited to get a chance to continue to play.”

The Longhorns (11-5-4) earned one of the 34 at-large bids, while James Madison (14-6-1) automatically qualified by winning the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament.

Texas has never played James Madison, but the Longhorns did play Navy and William & Mary this season, two teams that also faced James Madison.

East Coast soccer teams usually play a more finessed brand of soccer, different from the physical style that has percolated through Big 12 programs.

“We’ve played some teams from that area [this season], so that will help some,” Petrucelli said.

Texas has eight players on its roster that were on the team the last time the Longhorns made the tournament, but also start a host of young players who lack experience in the postseason. Petrucelli isn’t concerned with his team’s preparedness, though, and thinks the Longhorns’ tough schedule has gotten his team where it needs to be.

“Every game we’ve played this year has prepared them,” Petrucelli said. “We’ve played a number of NCAA tournament teams and we’ve been working hard all year to play in this tournament.”

The Longhorns are making their ninth appearance in the NCAA tournament and will look to improve on their 6-8-1 tournament record.

Texas was able to get away from Friday’s match with No. 6 Texas A&M with a tie, but the Longhorns will take much more than that going into Wednesday’s Big 12 tournament. The team showed once again it can play well against anyone in the country, and it’ll try to ride that confidence going into the tournament.

“We’re ready,” said Texas head coach Chris Petrucelli after the match. “We’ve talked all year long about continuing to get better, and we showed tonight that we have gotten better, and we’re ready to go.”

The Longhorns could use improvement on its finishing plays — Texas had the Aggies on its heels for most of the game but couldn’t finish chances late that could have won the game. Texas had three corner kicks in the final minute of regulation but couldn’t get a foot on the ball when it fell into the box.

The Longhorns will face Oklahoma on Wednesday, a rematch of last Sunday’s Red River Rivalry, where the Sooners were able to come up with a 2-1 win in double overtime. The Longhorns failed to score on some good chances in that game, too.

“We had some chances in that game, and I’d take that same game over,” Petrucelli said. “I feel we’d finish those chances, [given another opportunity].”

While scoring has been a bit of a problem lately for the Longhorns, defense has not. The back line has been playing exceptionally well lately, led by senior Erica Campanelli on the outside and junior Lucy Keith on the inside. In the last three games against the Aggies, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Longhorn defenders have been matched up against some of the best players in the country and shut them down.

“We’re hard to score against, so we’re going to be in the game,” Petrucelli said. “And we were able to keep the ball in all three games, and any time we can keep the ball, we’re kind of dangerous.”

Texas likes to keep possession and move forward with the ball, and it was able to do so Friday against a more fast-paced Aggie squad. It showed that Texas doesn’t get rattled by playing big-time opponents and that it is good enough not to get flustered into playing a different style than what works for the team.

Texas is almost assured an at-large birth into the NCAA tournament, but for now it has its eyes set on the Big 12. Petrucelli said the team would approach it like it has approached games all season — one game at a time.

“We’re going in with the thought of winning it,” he said. “We’re going to compete in a tournament, and when you do that, you go to win championships.”

For a senior, it can be a tough thing realizing the end is near. Four years of hard work, success and adversity. Four years that define your life.

The end is here for five Texas seniors, as the Longhorns host No. 6 Texas A&M in their final home game of the season tonight. Erica Campanelli, Kirsten Birkhold, Kate Nicholson, Alisha Ortiz and Kate Incerto will be honored before the game, with their families joining them on the field.

You would think that with their soccer careers at Texas coming to a close, the seniors might be busy planning for their own futures, leaving little time to interact with each other. But that’s not the case for Campanelli, Birkhold, Nicholson and Ortiz — for the past two years, the four have lived with each other in a house off-campus.

“It’s a fun environment, and we’re all best friends,” Campanelli said. “When you’re bored, you can always just walk down the hall and there’s normally someone home to keep you entertained.”

Head coach Chris Petrucelli thinks that living together helps the players when they’re on the field.

“Those are the kind of things that typically happen when players spend a lot of time together,” Petrucelli said. “It’s something we don’t [exactly encourage], but it tends to happen to different classes.”

Playing with her friends challenges Nicholson to play hard.

“I want to work hard for all of my teammates, but especially when it’s my closest friends,” she said. “There’s an extra bit of ‘umph’ that goes into it when I’m playing with them.”

While their relationships at home affect their ones on the pitch, it doesn’t exactly work the other way around. Campanelli, who has been a captain the past two seasons, said her leadership role doesn’t exactly translate at home.

“I wish I could use that kind of authority, but I don’t. I don’t get to pull rank over anyone, and that’s how it should be.”

The girls are as close as can be, spending time during practice, team meetings and hanging out at home. On campus, they are each other’s best friends. Whenever they go out to eat or see a movie, they go out in packs.

Their house has become a meeting ground for everyone else on the team — they’ve thrown a couple of birthday parties there, and most recently, threw a going-away party for Leah Fortune the day before she left to train with the Brazilian national team.

Birkhold likes to keep things light on the field and at home. She hosts ‘Between the Nets’ on TexasSports.com, where she conducts weekly interviews with her teammates and coaches.

“I pretty much joke around with the entire team,” Birkhold said. “We all pick on each other in a joking manner.”

While Birkhold doesn’t consider herself a prankster, that doesn’t mean pulling a quick joke isn’t out of the question. Such an opportunity arose while she and Nicholson traveled to California this summer.

“It’s well-known that I’m not good with spicy foods,” Nicholson said.

When Nicholson got up to go to the restroom, Birkhold ordered some salsa for the table.

“I set up this extravagant plan, and drank her water so she wouldn’t have any,” Birkhold said, smiling.

When Nicholson returned, Birkhold told her to try the salsa, ensuring her it wasn’t hot.

“Oh no, it’s really good,” Birkhold coaxed her.

So, with the trust of her good friend in mind, Nicholson dunked her quesadilla into the salsa and took a big bite.

“My mouth was immediately on fire,” Nicholson said, “and I’m around looking for water, but Kirsten is just laughing because she’s drank them all. She got
me good.”

Even after the prank, the two remain great friends. They love going on runs together and are even training to run in the Austin Half-Marathon this February.

It’s something they wanted to do last year but couldn’t because coach Petrucelli didn’t think it was a good idea for them to run it while on the team.

Finishing up their soccer careers at Texas certainly will open up some free time for the seniors, but Campanelli says they won’t easily forget the times they’ve
had together.

“There’s going to be so many memories and all of them are going to make me smile,” she said.

After a defense-led win over No. 5 Oklahoma State on Friday, the Longhorns fell to Oklahoma in a game that focused on offense and moving forward. Unfortunately, that playing style only works when the team capitalizes.

The Longhorns lost to Oklahoma 2-1 in double-overtime, even though Texas dominated the first half with numerous scoring opportunities.

Goal-scoring has eluded the Longhorns this season and going into Sunday’s game, it was 10th out of 11 teams in the Big 12 in goals scored.

Although the team only had six shots in the first half, the Longhorns wasted numerous scoring opportunities.

Defenders Sophie Campise and Erica Campanelli both had shots and made runs forward throughout the half, which created confusion for the Sooners with more Texas players forward.

OU’s Whitney Palmer headed the ball over goalie Alexa Gaul in the 10th minute, but midfielder Kylie Doniak responded 10 minutes later when she intercepted a sloppy pass and took a left-footed shot into the top right corner from 20 yards out. That goal tied her with midfielder Kristin Cummins for most goals on the team with five.

“I was just kind of surprised that the ball got to me off that kick, and then I just knew I wanted to go to goal,” Doniak said. “I didn’t really think of anything but getting a shot off.”
Doniak and forward Hannah Higgins, who started on top, worked well together, but their coordination did not get the ball in the back of the net.

“Me and Hannah have worked really hard this year just working off each other,” Doniak said. “I think we both have a complimentary style of play. She’s fast and dribbles, and I like to pass it to her, so it works well.”

Cummins had a near-goal in the 32nd minute of the second half when her sliding shot off of Doniak’s deflection missed widely.

Overtime was also high-powered offensively, especially in the first four minutes when close opportunities by Higgins and forward Gabby Zarnegar had Texas fans on the edge of their seats.
Head coach Chris Petrucelli said the team did not have enough composure in front of the goal to finish.

“The wind, I think, again tonight was a big factor,” Petrucelli said. “We didn’t take advantage of the chances that we had to win.”

First-place Texas A&M will not provide many chances when it visits Austin Friday night. 

Soccer

Texas (10-3-3, 3-2-2 Big 12) came away with two conference wins on the road this weekend, following up a 1-0 win over Missouri 1-0 on Friday with a 2-1 win at Iowa State on Sunday. Texas has now won three conference games in a row and has jumped up to fifth in the conference standings.

“We needed those [games], and I think more than anything we were really mentally tough, especially today,” said Texas head coach Chris Petrucelli after the win at Iowa State. “We were able to gut it out.”

Junior midfielder Lucy Keith scored in the 84th minute to give the Longhorns the lead over the Cyclones, after heading in a cross from junior midfielder Kylie Doniak. Doniak sent the ball into the box off a free kick from the corner.

Doniak assisted on all three of the Longhorns’ goals this weekend. The three assists move her total in the season to nine, tying for sixth in Texas’ single-season record book.

“Kylie gives us a chance off of her service, and she certainly does a good job at winning the ball and getting her foot on [the ball] in the box,” Petrucelli said.

Midfielder Amanda Lisberger added the other goal for the Longhorns, who have only outscored Big 12 opponents 5-4 this season.

On Friday, Texas posted its seventh shutout of the year against a tough Missouri team. Goalkeeper Alexa Gaul posted three saves en route to her third straight shutout, and she now leads the conference with four. Freshman defender Nina Pedersen returned to the starting lineup after missing four games with an ankle injury and helped bolster a defense that only allowed four shots all game.

“The defense was great, and certainly adding Nina helps us,” Petrucelli said. “We’re really excited that we’re defending so well.”

With Pedersen back in the lineup at middle back, senior Erica Campanelli returns to her natural position as the outside back, which helps the Longhorns’ offense push the ball up to their forwards. The two goals are the highest total Texas has scored in-conference this season.