Tarleton found his feet in the debut season
It was halftime and Tarleton State women’s soccer lost 4-0. They had conceded goals sloppily and quickly: four in 15 minutes. For the fifth game of the program ever, it was hard to imagine a worse start.
At the break, coach Pete Cuadrado called his squad together and demanded more. His instructions weren’t to lock things up and avoid further embarrassment. Instead, he wanted his team to up the intensity and start the second half strong. Five minutes into the second half, a clean finish came from Sydney Rouillard with a right foot. It was tight for the remaining 40 and the Texan side had two more shots on target. And although Tarleton couldn’t drag himself out of a 4-0 hole, Cuadrado was content.
“We have to find those wins in moments like this,” said Cuadrado.
This match was the first major defeat in Tarleton’s history. The Texans started their soccer program last year and played their first competitive game in early August. And things are off to a good start in Stephenville, Texas, as the program found form early on — and hinted that maybe there’s something to build on.
“It doesn’t take a lot of depth to put together a young team,” said Cuadrado. “I’ve been really impressed with what they’ve done so far.”
A coach with rich soccer experience, Cuadrado was quickly hired after Tarleton State announced plans to create a women’s soccer team in January 2021. He had 168 career wins at Wyoming and North Dakota State, coaching the former to a Mountain West Championship in 2018. Also from Texas, Cuadrado played football at nearby TCU and spent his summers in a condo on Padre Island, just a few hours from school.
Cuadrado was an easy choice. Putting together a program, however, was another question. Stephenville, Texas seems an unlikely place for a university. It has a population of just over 40,000, almost half of whom are from the college itself. It’s also a remote location, more than 100 miles from any major metropolitan area. The sporting pedigree is accordingly limited as the sporting capital of Dallas is a two hour drive away. But Cuadrado – who is well acquainted with coaching in remote areas – accepted the challenge.
“I enjoy smaller towns,” Cuadrado said. “Fargo, North Dakota, isn’t huge. Laramie, Wyoming is definitely not huge. But it’s nice to be in a smaller community that really stands behind the athletics program.”
And the fact that he was handed a blank slate certainly helped. When sports director Lonn Reisman brought him in early 2021, Tarleton State Soccer only existed in theory. The stadium, dressing room and other facilities had yet to be built or covered with scaffolding. The squad had exactly zero players and zero assistants. However, Cuadrado had a clear plan. He informed Reisman and his staff that he would need 22 players for the 2022 season, including 16 newcomers and six transfers. Cuadrado also had a specific type of player in mind. His coaching style has traditionally been adaptable, shifting between formations, playing style and personnel depending on the opponent. It was important to have versatile players.
The recruitment path fitted well with these ambitions. Convincing players to come to Wyoming or North Dakota had been a problem, though he’d formed connections with club coaches across the country. Giving players the ability to build something from scratch – especially in Texas – had a certain appeal. The 16 freshmen he brought with him all came from solid club football backgrounds, a mix of in-state and West Coast talent.
“I just felt a lot more valued here,” said Sydney Rouillard. “I just really fitted in with the coaches. I just felt like it was going to be a really good home for me for the next four years.”
It was a bit more difficult to get the right transfers. Hundreds of players enter the portal each year, and recognition – as well as the ability to play close to an athlete’s hometown – is often crucial. Running a brand new, relatively anonymous program wasn’t always conducive to bringing the necessary experience to the team. Still, Cuadrado persuaded a handful of transfers to come to campus for official visits. And many of them have been sold.
“It wasn’t very difficult to convince me to come here,” said Georgia transfer Macie Witter. “The school spirit is great. The campus is super nice. And the coaches are really great.”
So, on August 1st, Cuadrado had most of his team. They trained on a new pitch, complete with crisp lettering and bright purple accents. They trained in fresh attire adorned with an eye-catching logo. And as the Texas heat set in, the crew began to come together. Rouillard, a strong centre-back, and fifth-year midfielder Kiki Baurmann impressed, as did Adriana Alonso-Gomez, who joined in the sophomore. Still, here was a largely untested college-level group. Only two of the six transfers were regular starters in their previous programs and together have achieved six career goals.
“I think the coaches recruited really well,” Witter said. “Everyone works really hard and is a great team player. I definitely think a lot of girls get better the older they get.”
The Texans’ first goal was ambitious. In the 70th minute, Alonso-Gomez was offered 30 yards in front of goal. She walked towards the ball and quickly stroked it over the keeper, off the crossbar and into the back net. Their goal saved a 1-1 draw away, a hard-earned point to start Cuadrado’s tenure. The results continued to come in the following week. Nicholls University were dispatched thanks to a late goal from defenseman Rylee Low.
Then came the home game.
The athletic department has been pushing all week for students to participate. The 2,500 capacity had been reached by kick-off and more fans watched from behind the fences surrounding the field. Tarleton State’s first goal came after six minutes and the second after 28 minutes. At halftime it was 3-0. Two more goals came before the 60th minute, delighting a packed crowd. The team kept celebrating until the 6th goal came five minutes from time – ending in a 6-0 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on their home debut.
After five games, the Texans are 3-1-1. The victories were emphatic, the defeats one-sided. Nevertheless, there are suggestions from a team here. They’re thin – a couple of serious injuries have left Cuadrado with just 20 players to choose from – but they’ve uncovered some real talent.
“We were fortunate to be solid across the board,” said Cuadrado. “I don’t feel there was a position where we didn’t get enough to compete.”
When Tarleton’s conference, the WAC, picked the newcomers for the bottom spot in their pre-season poll, the manager rebuked:
“I can’t believe they picked a team that hasn’t lost a game to finish last, but I think we just have to go out there and compete.”
So far, the Texans have not shied away from the competition.