UTEP Women's Soccer Coach Kevin Cross
In 2012, the Miners defied the odds by running through the Conference USA Tournament as a seven seed to set up a date with No. 6 Memphis, on their home field for all the marbles. And after a scoreless 90 minutes, the Tigers scored in the 113th minute to put away UTEP and clinch their berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Miners were sent home packing, with no post-season destination but their road to redemption began Aug. 2 with media day at University Field.
"We just want to continue with where we left off from last year because we played our best soccer of the year in the tournament so that's the level we need where everyone plays hard and has a chip on their shoulder," head coach Kevin Cross said.
The team said they feel the outcome this year will be different, as they return nine starters and especially with the C-USA Tournament taking place Oct. 31-Nov. 4 in El Paso.
After last year, some of the players agreed with Cross saying they do have a chip on their shoulder while still using that season as a learning experience for this. Sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Dilling said she especially has that mentality after giving that one goal away so late in the game.
"I actually think about (the game) a lot. I was feeling it that game," Dilling said. "I think we could have done it but I'm ready to go and take them on this season, get them back."
Dilling also feels that other teams may want to get back at her, too, after her performances leading into the championship game. Against second-seeded Colorado College in the quarterfinals, she stopped eight shots en route to a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.
In the semifinals versus Rice, the two teams went through a scoreless regulation and extra time to head into penalty kicks. In PKs, Dilling stopped three of four shots and UTEP advanced with a 3-1 victory. It was these performances that Dilling feels other teams may feel the same way towards the Miners as they do about Memphis.
"There's a target on our back for those games, they'll be coming after us," Dilling said.
UTEP will get their shot at revenge against the Tigers Oct. 7 at home. They will also take on UCF, a team that earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last season, making it to the quarterfinals, Oct. 14 at University Field.
The I-10 rivalry against NMSU won't take place until Sept. 12 in Las Cruces.
Staying focused and taking each game one at a time is key for the Miners, notably from one of their senior captains, midfielder Tess Hall. She said it begins before the season starts, however.
"Right now, we're focusing on our training camp and we're focusing on our tactics and introducing the freshmen, learning how to play together," Hall said. "But when season comes, we really just focus on the two teams we have that weekend."
Hall felt a bit of remorse to know that this is possibly her last chance at playing soccer but wants to go out as a winner.
"It feels weird, to be honest, it's gone by so fast," Hall said. "I've been playing soccer since I was three and to think this is my last year here, I just want to do what I can for the team."
The other captain also happens to be their second and final senior, forward Brittany Kindzierski, who led the team with nine goals in 2011.
Dilling made it to the C-USA Freshmen Team while junior midfielder Azia Nicholson was named to the second-team C-USA last season. Cross has high expectations of both players and is grateful he has both on his team for multiple years to come.
"I've never seen a center-mid cover that much ground as (Azia) does and I think Sarah, who started at goal as a freshman and was playing phenomenal at the end, we hope will go forward from last year," Cross said.
One graduated player Cross said he will miss is midfielder Katie Dorman, who was second on the team in goals and points last year and led them in goals her junior year. She was the team's captain last season but Cross felt that she had the biggest heart of any player he's ever coached.
The other starting player not returning is defender Jessie Pettit, who missed four games last season due to injury. Also returning is the 2009 C-USA Freshman of the Year, forward Skye Schultz who red-shirted last season.
The Miners will open the season Aug .17 at Utah Valley in Orem, Utah and have their home opener against Texas State Aug. 22 in the 13th-Annual Border Shootout. They will take on Army two days later in the same tournament.