BELTON, Texas- For the UMHB women’s soccer team and head coach Barry Elkins, they have heard the questions about using this abbreviated spring season as momentum for the fall. But the Crusaders are not looking that far ahead. There simply is no reason to when a seven-match slate looms large this spring.
“I think the world that we’ve been living in for past year almost, you just don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said Elkins in an interview with True To The Cru. “We just don’t know how it is all going to go because of Covid. So I don’t think we’ve really had time to think about how it is going to go in the fall.”
Not only that, but they have simply been excited to get back onto the field, so the focus is very much so on the present.
“Obviously the whole quarantine time was tough for everybody, so throughout the fall, I think we were all just happy to be out there,” said Elkins. “It was a good fall, we all enjoyed it, because like I said, soccer is what we do and it makes us feel normal given all that was going on.
“This spring, it is almost the next step, the next progression. We’re happy to be able to play. And the next step to that is we’re happy to be able to compete.”
Compete they will, as the Cru was projected to finish second in the West division, just behind defending ASC champion Hardin-Simmons, in the conference preseason poll. Every match will be critical according to Elkins, because with only seven games, the difference between a win and a draw or loss could be huge when it comes to conference tournament seeding.
“This is an atypical season, but it is the season that we have and the season we were given, so we’re just going to play to the best of our abilities,” said Elkins. “We get to compete for a conference championship, which is what we try to do everywhere, so we’re really focusing on doing that. Some of that is because of the senior class. We have a good group of seniors, this is their last opportunity to win a conference championship.
“Let me just say that I know there’s been a lot of talk about D3 athletes being gifted another season, but these kids are students first, and they are all going to graduate. So we’re not looking to the fall, or next year, we’re looking to right now. This is truly the end of the road for some good players.”
That focus on the present will be led by this group of seven seniors, all of whom went through the heartbreaking 2-0 loss to Hardin-Simmons in the ASC Championship in 2019, and are determined to finish their collegiate careers by bringing an ASC title back to Cru country.
That group includes a go-to scorer in Emily Blaettner, who was third on the team with four goals in 2019, goalkeeper Emmy McMaude, who had a save percentage of .800 and tallied 76 saves a year ago, and the duo of defenders Chandler Jackson and Zoe Elledge.
Just as the seniors will lead the team, the freshmen class will also contribute. As Elkins noted, these talented freshmen have already gotten to practice with the team for a semester, and “aren’t seen as typical freshmen”, even though they haven’t yet seen the pitch in a college game.
“In a normal year, I would tell everybody, ‘There are no rookies anymore, because everyone has been through a season’,” said Elkins. “Truthfully now, that’s still true. Everybody has been able to practice together for the last three or four months, so going into this spring, you’re not looking at the freshmen in the same way, because they have experienced college.”
Missing from the roster is Dannah Fritschle, the team’s leading scorer as a freshman in 2019. Elkins confirmed that she opted out of the spring season, but plans to return to the team this coming fall.
The Cru opens its season Wednesday night (February 24) in Belton, hosting Concordia (TX). The Tornadoes will clash with the Crusaders at 6 p.m., as the men’s match was canceled on Tuesday due to Covid-19 protocols. Hardin-Simmons comes to Belton for the final game of the regular season slate, with that battle of preseason one vs. two taking place on March 27 at 7 p.m. CT.
The ASC Tournament will be contested a bit differently this year, with crossover matches beginning the tournament on April 1. The semifinals and finals will be contested at home site of the No. 1 seed in the East on April 8 and 10. For UMHB, assuming the Cru finish No. 2 in the West, the road to the conference championship could be hosting the No. 3 team from the East in the quarterfinals, winning that one and hitting the road for the possibility of two more matches, the first coming against the winner of a match between East No. 1 and West No. 4. Of course, with a win there, the Cru would be in the ASC title game.
“Even though this season is atypical, it is the season we have,” said Elkins. “The games still mean something. We’re still competing for something. We can walk away with a ring like we could any other year. Literally since last August we’ve been preparing for February 24.”