Each Tuesday throughout the season, former UCLA as well as U.S. Under-16 National Team midfielder Jessica Stamp, who is a Houston, Texas, native and the current color analyst on Texas Soccer Web Broadcasts, will give you her perspective on the team's performance over the last week.
The Horns worked all week in practice on being more dynamic up front. With leading goal scorer Caitlin Kennedy sidelined with an injury and second leading scorer Kelsey Carpenter seeing limited action, the team looked to attack the flanks and create opportunities off crosses. A key component to getting in behind the defense was movement off the ball in anticipation of passes out of the back. Amy Burlingham and Ashley Foster rose to the occasion and looked more threatening than ever. Both made slashing runs across the back line or bending runs out wide early so that the players behind them could send through balls on the ground and over top that beat UTEP nearly every time. Burlingham and Foster each scored a goal because of their constant motion on the front line. As Carpenter entered the match, an explosiveness returned to the UT offense and even more chances on goal ensued. The offense created several dangerous opportunities on goal and were unlucky to not be up by three or four goals heading into the waning minutes of the second half. UTEP's defense, meanwhile, stayed with every shot and cleared at least two off the goal line. Although the offense struggled all year to create quality chances, the squad ended the season on a high note, looking consistently threatening and converting two goals on a tough opponent despite not having two key players at full strength.
The surprise came in the final 10 minutes of the match when the typically solid defensive line broke down and allowed UTEP to run away with the victory. Although goalkeeper Dianna Pfenninger and three of the backs are freshmen, the backfield seemed to play with the composure and consistency of a more experienced group throughout the season. This is most likely a result of Kasey Moore, Stephanie Logterman and Pfenninger having played together before enrolling at Texas as well as senior Julie Gailey anchoring the left side. However, as UTEP pressed forward in the final minutes of the game on Friday, the back line became disorganized as players ran in behind, across and in front, overwhelming the Horns who hadn't seen much movement up to that point. Through the previous 80 minutes of action, the talented UTEP front runners could not cleanly receive a ball. It looked like an entirely different game in the last 10 minutes. Not only was UTEP possessing the ball and connecting with their forwards, but they were also getting quality shots on goal. Coach Petrucelli attributed the loss of focus to the team's youth. If anything, Texas has learned the importance of consistency this year. Putting together a full 90 minutes both offensively and defensively has been a struggle for the young squad ‹ as it would be for any team starting four freshmen. However, when Texas is able to play up to their potential at both ends of the field for the entire duration of the match, like when they played Texas A&M earlier in the year, the team looks nearly impossible to beat.
THE COMING SEASON
Coach Petrucelli will use this coming spring to work on strengthening the team in all these areas so that by the end of next preseason, a more confident team will emerge and be ready to realize its potential. Despite losing the services of seniors Julie Gailey and Melissa Androuny, the Longhorns return 10 starters next year. With the addition of another strong recruiting class, Coach Petrucelli will have more experience and depth to work with in formulating the best possible combination of players and overall formation on the field. Texas has to be pleased with its resurgence in the Big 12 standings down the stretch run of the season after starting the its conference campaign with two losses. The consistent competitiveness of the league and Texas' challenging schedule will continue to prepare the team for tougher opponents and postseason play down the road. This year illustrated the talent and potential of this young group to beat any team in the Big 12, an encouraging foundation on which to build a more dominant and collective unit in 2006.
STAMPS OF APPROVAL
STAMP'S PLAY OF THE WEEK: The goals by junior forwards Amy Burlingham and Ashley Foster that came in the first and second half, respectively, against UTEP to give each of them nine points in the last nine games.
STAMP'S PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Junior forward Amy Burlingham made brilliant runs on the Texas front line, consistently beating the UTEP backfield to the ball. Her efforts not only increased the Horns' overall offensive pressure, but also earned her a goal and an assist on the night.