SAN ANTONIO – Our Lady of the Lake University is once again a soccer power in the Red River Athletic Conference.
The women's and men's soccer programs have stormed through the regular season, and enter the conference tournament primed to bring home some hardware.
"It's been a tradition making it to the playoffs," said junior center back Miguel Sanchez. "We want to keep it that way."
The men open the postseason as the conference's third seed after posting a 6-2-1 record in conference play and finishing the regular season 10-5-2 overall. It's the latest chapter for a squad that has qualified for the playoffs in nine of the last 12 seasons under longtime head coach Shane Hurley and has shown a marked improvement from a 2018 campaign that saw the Saints only win seven games.
"I think our defensive group has been the biggest difference," Sanchez explained. "We've kept in good shape, kept good form and only allowed two goals over the last six games."
"We have a big group of very hard workers," said sophomore midfielder and team captain Noberto Lira. "We work together as a group, with great leaders that have stepped up and we're in a good position to move forward. If we all work together, we can win."
"They've responded to adversity really well," Hurley said. "They've matured. We have a lot of new players that came in this year, so it was an interesting mix. There was a lot more international flavor to the squad as well."
The men missed out on a first-round bye after suffering a tough 1-0 loss to UH-Victoria on the final game of the regular season, but they believe their young, talented roster can carry them to the program's second tournament championship and beyond.
"I think we've got the team to make it all the way to nationals," Sanchez said. "To win this conference tournament, we just have to keep our confidence up, keep our shape and form, and we should be fine."
The men will begin their tournament run against sixth-seeded Texas A&M-Texarkana on OLLU's campus Friday afternoon at 1 p.m.
The women, meanwhile, boast the conference's best record (7-2, 10-4-1 overall) and ride into the playoffs on a three-game winning streak. It's the sixth time the program has won the regular season conference title in the last eight seasons, and they've qualified for the postseason in nine of the last 11. What makes this year's run all the more special are the contributions of an enormous freshman class that comprises over half of the active roster.
"It's been really fun having a big class of freshmen coming in and getting to know everyone," said sophomore forward Dawson Brinkley. "It's definitely been a change from last year. They've brought a lot of energy to the team."
"Everyone provides a lot of personality to the team," junior forward and team captain Baye Polansky explained. "We all have a lot of fun, and we all work hard. They push us just as much as we push them."
"It's been a roller coaster," seventh-year head coach Arthur Salazar said. "We have a bit of a young group who has had their ups and downs. As we've found ourselves in the latter stages of the season, we've been able to display the mental fortitude necessary for us to continue to be successful. Once they bought in and realized that playing for each other does matter, it starts to make a big difference, and we're just starting to see the result of it."
Brinkley, the reigning Conference Player of the Year, and Polansky are two of the team's biggest offensive weapons, combining to score 15 of the team's 41 goals. That firepower is a big reason why the Saints have a first-round bye.
"We're building our team bonding, trying to lift everyone up and make sure our spirits are high," Polansky said. "We're using it to rest our legs and get hyped for the match."
"We're definitely ready to win the tournament and go into nationals," Brinkley said. "We're determined, and we want it really badly."
The women will open tournament play on Nov. 7 at Texas A&M-Texarkana.