Women’s soccer seniors lead team into 2021 campaign

The women’s soccer program returns for its 13th season and eighth year under Head Coach Arthur Salazar. The Saints are the reigning Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) champions and boast 10 freshmen, two transfers and 22 returners.

Salazar said, “We are excited to finally have an opportunity to have some semblance of a season. With all the uncertainty over the past 10 months, it will be nice to be back on the field in a competitive setting. The team worked hard in the fall to overcome the newly presented challenges. Hopefully the excitement of playing, combined with their preparation, will allow us to have another successful year.”

Beginning the season

The Saints open the 2021 season by traveling a short distance to face NCAA D2 St. Mary’s University (2-4-2) on Jan. 30. The team heads to Brownwood, Texas, to play Howard Payne University (1-0) on Feb. 3 and then returns home for a game against Texas Lutheran University (1-1) on Feb. 20. (Numbers after school indicate all-time records).

Postseason

The RRAC will begin the postseason April 2-3 at campus sites, while the semifinals and finals will take place April 8-9. The NAIA Championship Opening Rounds will take place April 15-17 at campus sites. The final rounds will be April 27-May 3 in Foley, Ala.

Conference opponents

OLLU will take on seven different RRAC opponents during the 2021 campaign. They start by playing a pair of road games against Texas A&M University-Texarkana (3-1) on Feb. 25 and Paul Quinn College (5-0) on Feb. 27.

The Saints welcome Jarvis Christian College (6-0) on March 4 and the University of the Southwest (16-1) on March 13 for their first home games of the season. The final three games of the season include road games against LSU-Alexandria (6-1-1) on March 18, LSU-Shreveport (5-2-2) on March 20 and a home finale versus University of Houston-Victoria (13-1) on March 27.

Senior class

Senior leadership will be pivotal to a successful season for the Saints. The class includes goalkeepers Mikaela Gilbert (SR/San Antonio, Texas) and Savannah Hernandez (SR/El Paso, Texas), defender Victoria Morales (SR/Brownsville, Texas) and midfielders Baye Polansky and Yolanda Vazquez (SR/Los Angeles, Calif.).

Hernandez made 48 saves in 16 games last season, while Gilbert stopped 20 in nine games. Polansky was named RRAC Offensive Player of the Week for Oct. 14-20, and Vazquez earned RRAC Scholar-Athlete awards. Morales started in two games last season and made the RRAC Scholar-Athlete team during the 2018 season.

Returners

The Saints feature 17 returners who will play alongside the seniors. Melanie DeLuna (SO/San Antonio, Texas), Madison Herrera (SO/Helotes, Texas), Nallely Infante (SO/Houston, Texas), Sarah Miles (SO/Helotes, Texas), Emily Morin (SO/McAllen, Texas), Riley Perez (SO/El Paso, Texas), Ambree Rheinberger (SO/San Antonio, Texas), Haley Smith (SO/Spring Branch, Texas), Desiree Velasquez (SO/Katy, Texas) and Brianna Yanez (SO/Portland, Texas) make up the sophomore group. Juniors include Dawson Brinkley (JR/San Antonio, Texas), Liliana Briseno (JR/San Antonio, Texas), Olivia Eagleson (JR/El Paso, Texas), Sophia Mora (JR/San Antonio, Texas), Jaylin Seto (JR/Houston, Texas), Erika Zapata (JR/Baytown, Texas) and Jessica Zapata (JR/Baytown, Texas).

Brinkley led the Saints with 11 goals and tallied a hat-trick against Texas College in a commanding 11-0 victory last season. She earned RRAC First Team All-Conference honors with Seto and Polansky. The Zapata twins were named to the RRAC Second Team All-Conference list, and Herrera was an honorable mention.

Newcomers

OLLU welcomes 10 freshmen and two transfers this season. Samantha Benne (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Ijayla Criswell (FR/San Antonio), Rachel Dziuba (FR/Germantown, Md.), Samantha Nava (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Abigail Payne (FR/El Paso, Texas), Tess Pitcher (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Andrea Santana (FR/McAllen, Texas), Kyleigh Spree-Kolos (FR/Victoria, Texas), Deanna Tarango (FR/El Paso, Texas) and Stephanea Valles (FR/El Paso, Texas) will take the field for the first time. The class includes five defenders, three midfielders, one forward and a goalkeeper.

Sophomore defender Irania Acosta (SO/El Paso, Texas) and junior forward Kaelyn Carnahan (JR/Chandler, Ariz.) transferred to play for the Saints this year. Acosta previously competed at Sam Houston State University, while Carnahan joins the team after playing for Prairie View A&M University.

Attendance policy

At this time, the university has mandated that no spectators be allowed to attend athletic events at OLLU as a commitment to keeping our community safe from COVID-19. If this mandate changes, a notification will be sent via the OLLU website at http://www.ollusaintsathletics.com. With the reality that all intercollegiate teams will be playing during the spring, the university will announce which games/teams will be live-streamed through the OLLU Saints Network.