Big Leaps over Baby Steps AC Soccer Programs Kick off New Season on Friday

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Angelina College’s soccer program has only been around for three years, but in that time both the women’s and men’s teams have made progress. Baby steps are great for young teams.

In 2018, however, the program saw considerably bigger strides, with the Roadrunner women achieving their first-ever national ranking – and qualifying for the conference tournament for the third consecutive season – while the men established a new mark for wins in a season.

Heading into his fourth year at the helm of both teams, Freddy Drago is optimistic his teams can make leaps over baby steps in 2019.

“To be honest, we were pleasantly surprised at our women’s team last year,” Drago said during a recent practice. “We didn’t expect a team so young (nine freshmen) to make such a big jump in just the program’s third year. That was huge. With this year’s team, anything short of challenging for a conference tournament berth is going to be disappointing, especially with the core of players we have returning.

“As for the men, our conference is so tough, by far one of the toughest junior college conferences in the entire country. Friday’s first game will tell us quite a bit. We can measure ourselves from there. If things go right, based on pure talent, the men should be able to make a big jump as well.”

Both teams kick off the regular season Friday at home against Richland College, the defending NJCAA Division III national champions. Those matches will be the perfect measurements for just how ready his squads are for the rigors of play in a brutal conference.

Drago said his men’s team, “one of the most talented overall I’ve ever coached”, got a shot in the arm with an influx of international players. The 2018 season was the first in which the programs were allowed to recruit and sign international players, and Drago said their inclusion helps lift the skill levels for everyone involved.

“The training these kids have had prior to getting here to Angelina College really stands out,” Drago said. “Those players’ training back home is so far advanced from what local players are able to get over here in the United States. A lot of these guys here now have trained at professional academies.

“Their fundamentals, their overall skills and all the other aspects of the game they bring with them is at such a high level, meaning the talent level of our roster is at a higher level this year.”

Those skill levels translate into an entirely different style of play, Drago said. “Touches. The fewer touches, the better,” Drago explained. “We want to have the ability required to get rid of the ball quicker, and keep the flow moving. These guys are used to that style of game, and they’re going to help our local guys tremendously.

“The overall technique these guys have is incredible. We don’t have to spend practice time teaching technique. These guys already have it. We can spend more time now on tactics rather than techniques.”

On the women’s side, the team is returning several key players from last year’s roster, along with adding some talented incoming freshmen. For those reasons alone, Drago expects this group to keep up its own expectations.

“On this year’s (women’s) roster, we have a great mix of new faces and returning players,” Drago said. “I’d say it’s about 50/50. We identified a couple of holes from last year, and we’ve gotten some good players to come in and fill those spots. We’re really excited about what we’ve got coming up for these ladies.”

Despite losing two key players who combined for more than 30 goals between them, Drago is confident the new crew will thrive despite a change in its attack.

“We’ll have a different style of play this year for sure,” Drago said. “With those two, we were able to play a fast-paced, long-ball style that fit their specific skills. Now, we’ll be able to play more of a possession-based style. The newer players may not have the same style of play, but we believe they’ll be just as effective.

“Our midfield is very, very solid. We have Daisy de Boer and Jasmin Keller returning. Bety Hernandez was a phenomenal defender last season, but we’re going to use her in a more offensive role now. She can really take o players one-on-one.”

Both the excitement and expectations are running high heading into the new season, but Drago wants to temper some of those expectations – at least for now, this first week of the season.

“As long as there’s constant progression, I’m OK,” Drago said. “We just don’t want to lose any of the progress we’ve gained over our first three years.”

Friday’s matches kick off with the Roadrunner women at 5 p.m. The men follow at 7 p.m. Both games will take place at Jase Magers Field on the campus of Lufkin High School.

The e-mail address for AC’s Sports Information Director is gstallard@angelina.edu.

Author

Gary Stallard
Gary Stallard
Sports Information Director Gary Stallard, who also serves as a Liberal Arts Instructor, begins his eleventh season with Angelina College. Following a career as a U.S. Marine, Stallard completed his bachelor’s degree at Stephen F. Austin University, where he majored in English and Journalism. For more than 16 years, he has worked as a sports writer/columnist/photographer for the Lufkin Daily News; he continues to contribute free-lance articles on occasion. Stallard has won several awards for writing, including the Golden Hoops Award for basketball writing in 2003, Regional Sports Writer of the Year in 2004, and the Texas Press Association’s first-place award for column writing in 2007 and in 2014. He has also done basketball, football and baseball radio and live streaming play-by- play and color commentary for an ESPN affiliate. Currently Stallard serves as play-by-play broadcaster for AC basketball, baseball and softball games.

Prior to arriving at Angelina College, Stallard taught English at Lufkin High School for four years. He currently teaches Developmental Writing classes at AC. He and his wife Susan live in Lufkin.
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