Texas A&M Women's Soccer team is off to a great start and it's looking like the sky is the limit for this group of young women.
"Our expectation is to be able to compete for a championship. We feel like we have the ability to be one of the top teams in the conference," said Coach Don Koontz.
"We pride ourselves on our fitness and skill. Our defenders do their job, the forwards understand how to do their jobs and the goal keeper does hers."
Goal keeper Tinotenda Charuma, a junior electrical engineering major from Garland, Texas, is a standout on the team.
"She is one of the top goal keepers in the conference and she's already won Player of the Week once this year for having three shutout games," Don said.
Other Eagles recognized this season by the Red River Athletic Conference include freshman defender Nicole Chamagua, who recently received Defensive Player of the Week and Lesly Macias, a sophomore midfielder who was named Offensive Player of the Week.
The Lady Eagles have started off strong but there is room for improvement.
"I think we can be a better possessing team and I think we could be more physical," Don said. "I have some fast girls. Our average height is 5'2 so we're small and feisty but we could be bigger and more physical."
As with other collegiate sports, it takes commitment, determination and excellent time-management skills to play college soccer. Making time for practice, schoolwork and other responsibilities can be difficult. But for the players who stick with it, not only get better at soccer but also become better prepared for life after college.
"We do 10 to 12 hours of training per week and possibly two games" Don said. "So you're looking at 16 to 20 hours a week either training or playing. They have five hours of required study hall a week; strength conditioning and weights two to three hours a week. We have community service five to 10 hours a month. We try to recruit players that have proven to have a strong enough academic background, so it's not such a stretch. It's all about time management. If they can handle all of that, having only a job to worry about once they're out of college will seem easy."
There are 26 players on the women's team, most from the heart of Texas. No local girls are on the team at this time, but it's not because there isn't talent in this area.
"I want to get more players from here but when you grow up in Texarkana and you get out of high school, you want to get out of Texarkana," the coach said. "There is enough talent here. I can reach out, but from my experience they want to try their hand elsewhere."
Don, who coaches both women and men's soccer at A&M-Texarkana, compared the way the game is played by both genders.
"The women's game is more tactical and more clinical. It's very fun to watch. The difference in the men's game is it's a lot faster and more physical. The play is more dynamic and guys tend to do more tricks," he said.
Fundamentals of soccer and physical fitness aren't the only focus for the team.
"One of the things we pride ourselves on is following the five colors of the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) — respect, responsibility, integrity, sportsmanship and servant leadership," he said. "We obviously want to play and be outstanding soccer players but there's more to being on our team."
The team does community service projects to help develop those five qualities.
"That gets them involved with the community and also makes the team more visible," Don said. "We don't want to ask for people to come support us and not give that support back, and we definitely want to have an impact with kids."
He said the team cultivates a family atmosphere with a goal of developing young women to be leaders in their chosen professions.
"We want them to use the demands of soccer and collegiate athletics and apply those to the next phase in their lives. We really want to win on the soccer field but the ultimate goal is to win at life," he said. "We have players who didn't win a championship here but they are winning at life and having an impact. That's the culture we want here."
Playoffs start the first week of November and the Final Four and Conference Final will take place in Texarkana the second week of November. Koontz hopes to see his squad play at home that week.
The conference tournament winner gets a spot in the NAIA Women's Soccer Championship.
"The conference tournament is the end-all, be-all for us unless you can get into the national rankings," Don said. "In the last 10 years, no one in our conference has received an automatic bid."
A&M-Texarkana Women's remaining Soccer Schedule
Oct. 3, Thursday,
at 5 p.m. vs. RV Louisiana State University-Alexandria
Oct. 5, Saturday,
at 1 p.m. vs. Louisiana State University-Shreveport**
Oct. 12, Saturday,
at 5 p.m. vs. Paul Quinn College
Oct. 17, Thursday, at 5 p.m. vs. Huston-Tillotson University
Oct. 19, Saturday, at
5 p.m. vs. University
of the Southwest***
Oct. 24, Thursday,
at 1 p.m. at Jarvis Christian College
Oct. 26, Saturday, at
1 p.m. at Texas College in Tyler, Texas
Nov. 2, Saturday, Red River Athletic Conference opening round vs. TBA
Nov. 8, Friday, RRAC Soccer Championships****
Nov. 9, Saturday, RRAC Soccer Championships****
Nov. 16, Saturday, NAIA Soccer opening round
*Home games are at
the Judy Kelley Morgan Soccer Field on the
A&M Texarkana campus
****at the Judy Kelley Morgan Soccer Field
on the TAMU-T campus