Women’s soccer program to start 2014, men’s 2015
The University of Texas-Pan American’s emerging women’s soccer program will begin play in 2014 and the return of the men’s soccer program will take place in 2015 after an 18-year hiatus, according to Athletic Department officials during a press conference Wednesday.
The announcement of the impending programs was first accidentally made public by president Robert Nelsen at the Dec. 19, 2012 press conference, where the University accepted the bid to join the Western Athletic Conference.
“Also at this very same podium we announced we were starting men’s and women’s soccer, which actually was not part of the script. Dr. Nelsen got caught up in the moment,” said Athletic Director Chris King about making the news public earlier than planned.
Although it is certain the University is getting soccer, it is still uncertain where the new complex will be built and how soon it will undergo construction. The new development will not only serve the soccer programs, but will also facilitate track and field and other events, according to King.
The University’s new endeavor carries a hefty price tag. The new soccer and track and field complex is anticipated to be a multi-million dollar project, according to Athletic Department officials, who plan to reach out to the community for the funds to start the project.
“We have got to look to host other events on campus and not just soccer and track and field events, so to make this vision a reality we will need assistance from the community,” King said. “Those who want to see UTPA soccer become a success can make an immediate impact with the help and assistance of this track and field complex.”
The Athletic Department officials will form a soccer fundraising committee in the next couple of weeks, which will be made up of community members and alumni to raise private funds for the complex.
Additionally, the department is currently looking for the Broncs’ first women’s soccer head coach, as the job was officially posted after Wednesday’s press conference. The department hopes to have a candidate to take the reins of the new program by May 1. The search for the men’s head coach will start later this year.
“We do want someone who has the ability to take a program from scratch and build it into a winning program,” King said.
Both women’s and men’s programs will compete at the NCAA Division 1 level, like the men did from 1987 through 1997.
Only two Texas schools, Southern Methodist University and Houston Baptist University, competed in NCAA Division 1 men’s soccer last year. In the fall, Incarnate Word University, which also sponsors men’s soccer, will transition into Division 1. Once the University’s soccer program kicks off in 2015, UTPA will be the fourth Texas school with a Division 1 team.
When men’s soccer first emerged on campus, it started as a club team in 1970. Seventeen years later Pan American University went on a 10-year run as a Division 1 team, with an overall record of 56-82-6.
The WAC previously included football as its core sport, but because it no longer offers it due to conference realignments, representatives had to choose a new core sport. Other institutions already offered soccer so it was an easy decision, King said.
“There are great times ahead for Bronc athletics,” he added. “The enthusiasm surrounding my athletics program, with gaining membership into the WAC and today’s announcement of Bronc men’s and women’s soccer, it’s a level I personally never witnessed in the four years since I’ve been in the Bronc athletics.”
Bringing soccer back to the Broncs has been a goal at the University for years, but it seems like now was the best time for the University to act on it, according to the president.
“When I got here, it was one of the very first things we started working on,” Nelsen said. “We had to work on getting gender equity first and we finally got the gender equity, to where we had enough women’s sports. Once we got there we added another sport. That’s soccer.”
With the impending merger between UTPA and the University of Texas at Brownsville and the addition of a medical school, it is still uncertain what the effect will be on the two schools’ athletic programs, but both Nelsen and King assure that the merger will not alter the latest news of soccer and the WAC.
“It won’t be affecting it at all, it just makes us stronger and moving in there we will be remaining Division 1 as we are now,” Nelsen said. “But we’ll be able to recruit better down in Brownsville, we’ll be able to recruit better up in Starr County and we’ll be able to recruit better throughout the Valley.”
According to Jorge Cavazos, a UTPA alumni and former Bronc soccer player, the talent among high school soccer teams throughout the Valley has improved in the past 10 years, reflected by the four state high school championships local teams have brought home.
“It’s very important because most of our kids in high school, the ones that we’re coaching, don’t have anywhere else to go but San Antonio or further north,” said Cavazos, who coaches the Weslaco High School boys’ soccer team. “But now that we have the program here, it’s very important for our kids, for them to stay here in the Valley.”
Because there are only three other in-state universities that offer Division 1 soccer, Nelsen hopes this attracts more students to attend UTPA.
“It means an awful lot to the community because kids here start playing soccer when they’re young and they play it all the way through,” he said. “I want all of the young soccer kids all throughout the Valley. So it’s an amazing opportunity for them. It’s also something that’s ingrained in the Valley.”
Val LaMantia Peisen, a partner of L&F Distributors, made a $275,000 donation to establish the William D. Peisen Endowed Scholarship for Intercollegiate Soccer, which will provide a minimum of one scholarship for women’s soccer and one for men’s soccer each year. Most importantly, applicants must have graduated from a Valley high school.
“I think we’ll have big turnouts for the games, I think that the students will want to see their fellow students,” the president said. “They’re going to be able to recruit here locally and so you can cheer on your local stars and it really is about community. We’re going to start with a winning season.”