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Vashaun Newman
Soccer

UTSA hosts highly-ranked Memphis Thursday in first AAC home game

SAN ANTONIO – The UTSA soccer team (5-3-2, 0-0-1 AAC) is no doubt excited to be facing No. 9/12 Memphis (7-1, 1-0 AAC) back within the friendly confines of the Park West Athletics Complex on Thursday night – where the Roadrunners are 4-0 this season and have enjoyed an .818 win percentage over the past three seasons. The Roadrunners are also back in San Antonio after three consecutive contests away from home. This crucial American Athletic Conference matchup represents the first UTSA conference match at home and the first in the series with the Tigers. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast live on ESPN+.

Broadcast and Live Stats

  • Thursday night’s game will air at 7 p.m. on ESPN+ for subscribers. Karl Schoening (play-by-play) and former UTSA forward/midfielder Alyssa Blankenship (analyst) will be on the call.
  • UTSA live stats can be found via HERE.

Special Events

Thursday's game is set to be Greek Life Night, welcoming UTSA's fraternity and sorority members to join in cheering on the Roadrunners against the Tigers. There will be a competition for highest house numbers represented at the game with prizes for both fraternities and sororities. In addition, there will be an on-field competition with select representatives at the half.

Catching up with the Roadrunners
The Roadrunners spent the past three outings away from Park West, and came away from the seven-day stretch with a 1-1-1 record. The road swing opened up with a 3-0 victory at Stephen F. Austin, delivering the first road victory on the year. The Roadrunners departed Tulsa with a scoreless draw last Thursday in the inaugural AAC opener, despite placing 6-of-11 shots on target against the Golden Hurricane. Closing out last week at Baylor, UTSA outshot the Bears but a near perfect corner placement produced a BU goal in the 19th minute. Despite a flurry of second-half chances, the Roadrunners fell 1-0, in Waco, in their second Big 12 matchup of the season.

Head coach Derek Pittman is 44-38-14 (.531) in his sixth season at UTSA and 95-105-32 (.478) overall in 13 total seasons coaching three different programs.

Morrin Selected to Ireland Football Roster
The Roadrunners must face the Tigers without their top scorer on Thursday, as freshman forward Sophie Morrin departed this week to join the Republic of Ireland U19 National Team for camp and friendlies in Wales and Northern Ireland. In the first matchup, Ireland defeated Wales, 7-0 on Wednesday and is slated for a rematch on Friday in Wrexham.

Morrin has made waves as a standout despite her rookie status, topping the UTSA goal lists with three goals this season, in a three-way scoring tie with six points. Playing in nine games with seven starts, she netted all three on-target shots, including one game-winning goal, out of nine total attempts.

Hailing from Northwich, England, this is hardly Morrin’s first engagement with the Irish National Team and head coach Dave Connell. Having been an ongoing member of the squad under his tutelage since 2022 while previously appearing for Ireland’s U17s in 2021-22 under coach James Scott and representing Ireland at the U17 UEFA Euros. Back home in England, Morrin played for both the Manchester United Foundation RTC U16 Girls squad in the FA Girls' England Talent Pathway League and went on to captain the Liverpool FC Women U21 squad to the 2023 WSLA Plate.

Bringing the Heat
Sans Morrin, grad defender Sabrina Hillyer has a pair of goals and is the clear leader at attacking the goal – putting up a team-best 16 shots with eight logged on target (.500 SOG%). Also proving aggressive around the box, junior forward Jordan Walker has 11 shots, six on target (.545 SOG%). Both are due after not taking any shots against Baylor. A very diverse attacking team this season, UTSA has recorded 19 different players with shots, including 18 players with an on-goal shot and 11 different players logging a goal. As a team, UTSA is averaging 13.3 shots and 5.7 on target per outing. The Roadrunners offense is averaging 1.5 goals per game.

Scoring a goal is rarely a solo affair for UTSA in 2023. Setting the table, UTSA has 20 assists, leading The American in total assists while ranking 32nd in the NCAA. In per-game average, UTSA sits at 53rd nationally and fourth in the AAC with 2.00 apg.
Pacing the supporting effort, junior midfielder Jordyn Hyland has a team-high four assists, tying for second in the American and 50th nationally. Also helping along the scoring effort, senior defender Alex Granville has three assists and ties for sixth in the AAC and 118th nationally with three assists. The Roadrunners are fourth in the league in total points (73rd nationally) and fifth in scoring offense. Hillyer and Hyland tie Morrin for the top UTSA scoring spot with six points apiece.

San Antonio Walls
UTSA has a proven defensive unit and a firm command of the midfield, evidenced by the limits on opposing chances. A four-year starter, fifth-year defender Deja Sandoval has led the defense, while appearing all but a single minute of this season. Preseason AAC watch-lister and senior defender Sasjah Dade is in her third year as a starter and holding things down alongside Sandoval, Granville and Hillyer. UTSA has outscored the opposition 7-2 over the past five games and holds a 15-7 advantage on the year. Over that five-game stretch, UTSA has seen the opposition take 37 shots (7.4 shots/gm) with just 17 on target (3.4 SOG/gm). Through 10 games this season, UTSA has only allowed more than a single score twice, in games at Kansas State and Grand Canyon – the latter being a 6-3-1 opponent that has the 45th-most total goals and boasts the nation’s No. 5 scorer, Giana Gourley.

For their efforts, the Roadrunners allow just 0.80 goals against per game to rank second in The American and 72nd in the NCAA. UTSA has earned shutouts in half their matches – which ranks coming in at second in the AAC and 61st in the NCAA. Aiding that 2023 effort, UTSA has outshot the opponent thanks to the strong defensive effort, logging a 133-78 (13.3 to 7.8) differential with a 57-37 SOG advantage.

Rookie Standing Tall
Back-line experience aside, an important component of the latest scoring margins has been freshman goalkeeper Jasmine Kessler, who has 360 minutes in goal while making the last four UTSA starts. She’s only allowed two goals in that stretch, registering 11 saves and accounting for numerous scoops and clears in the 18-yard box you’ll never find on the stat sheet. She’s boasts an .846 save percentage at the front end of her career and has two clean sheets.

One thing spectators will see if she’s in the net is her booming goal and clearance kicks well beyond mid-field – no surprise given her background. The Spring, Texas, Klein Collins-graduate, Kessler earned back-to-back District 15-6A Goalkeeper of the Year honors and was a multi-sport athlete in track and basketball. Additionally, her booting prowess created a role in the kicking rotation for the KCHS football team, where she became the first female Texas 6A HS football player to score in the playoffs – scoring on an extra point in the third quarter against Bridgeland (Nov. 11, 2022).

Wealth in Experience
If it’s redshirt junior Mia Krusinski between the pipes on Thursday, the Roadrunners will regain a vast resume of success. In her second season since transferring from Florida Gulf Coast, Krusinski holds an 11-5-2 record between the pipes with 53 saves, six shutouts, a 0.95 GAA and a .768 save percentage. She ties for fourth on the UTSA career victories list, fourth in career shutouts and is currently sixth on the save percentage list. One more save places her on the career saves rankings. Riding a streak of 14 consecutive starts from last season to present, Krusinski was named to the American Athletic Conference Preseason Watch List after an 8-3-2 record and four shutouts in 2022. She grabbed a career-high 11 saves in the NCAA Tournament match against TCU and recorded 10 saves in the three-game 2022 Conference USA Tournament Championship stretch, earning a spot of the All-Tournament Team last November. Krusinski was last in goal against Grand Canyon in Phoenix on August 31.

Home Sweet Home
The Roadrunners are setting the standard for delivering on the pitch at Park West. Including their most recent home triumph, a 4-1 win over Texas A&M-Commerce, UTSA is 4-0 on the season at home and picked up their eighth consecutive home victory against the Lions. Dating back to the 2021 season, the Roadrunners have racked up a 16-2-4 record at Park West and are delivering a phenomenal .818 winning percentage at home. This season, UTSA has also outscored the inbound opposition, 12-2, while outshooting visiting teams 68-5 at Park West.

Forward From Here
A meaningful motto for the 2023 Roadrunners squad, Forward From Here is indicative of the progress and culture instilled under Pittman – coming to fruition in each of the past three seasons. Prior to his arrival in 2018, UTSA had won just 11 games in the prior three seasons with a .267 winning percentage. Though his vision didn’t materialize overnight, fast-forward to 2021 when the Roadrunners collected double-digit wins for the first time since 2010 – when they won the Southland conference.

Pittman’s Roadrunners followed up with a 12-6-3 overall record in 2022, closing out the year in historic fashion, sweeping through three games at the Conference USA Tournament, and defeating Florida Atlantic in overtime, 3-2, for their first conference tournament title since 2010 – earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament, where they battled fifth-seeded TCU to a 3-1 loss in Fort Worth. 

For their success, the soccer team joined in with fellow C-USA Champions from the football team for a City of San Antonio celebratory boat parade on the River Walk.

Ranking Rollercoaster
Although the Roadrunners haven’t made an appearance in the national team rankings, UTSA debuted this season with its highest United Soccer Coaches South Region ranking in program history – after appearing in the poll just twice last season in another first for the program. Since week one, the Roadrunners have moved around, but remained in the top 10, entering Sunday’s matchup at seventh in the South standings – a byproduct of the challenging region’s .706 win percentage among the ranked 10.

The Tigers are currently ranked No. 9 in the TopDrawerSoccer poll and 12th in the United Soccer Coaches poll, listing at the top of the South Region poll. UM is the second-highest-ranked program to visit Park West, after No. North Carolina was in San Antonio in 2015. The Tigers are the first ranked team UTSA has faced this season – the last ranked opponent being No. 17 (fifth-seeded) TCU in last year’s NCAA tournament.

In-State Connections
Unsurprisingly for a University of Texas System program, the Roadrunners roster features 14 players from within Texas’ borders. Hailing from Tennessee, Memphis still holds a pair from the Lone Star State, defender Haylee Spray from Allen and Jocelyn Alonzo from Coppell.

Series history
Thursday will mark the first meeting between these programs. The UTSA program opened up competition in 2006 and have a 122-165-31 (.432) overall record, while the Tigers have been playing since 1995 and have a total record of 320-208-41 (.598) - recording all but five seasons under the leadership of current coach Brooks Monaghan.
 
Scouting the Tigers
Freshly moving into the national top 10 in one poll and on the fringe in another, the Tigers are riding a four-game win streak after downing UT Martin on Thursday, 4-0. Their lone loss this season was doled out by then-No. 7 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The two-time defending AAC Champion, Memphis has squared up with squads from the SEC, Big 10 and Big 12 and have drawn up seven wins. For their efforts, the Tigers rank among the nation’s top 10 in corner kicks per game (8th, 7.88), scoring offense (7th, 3.12) and shots per game (7th, 20.0) – leading The American in 12 statistical categories.

Fifth-year forward Saorla Miller was second on the 2022 team and leads this year’s squad with seven goals. An All-Region and first-team All-AAC performer last year, fifth-year forward/midfielder Mya Jones tops the team with 12 points, including three goals and five assists. Meanwhile, junior forward Momo Nakao has four goals – while the Tigers have seven players with multiple goals.

In goal, the majority of starts have gone to junior Kaylie Bierman. She played sparingly last year, but has six starts with a 0.57 GAA, 14 saves and an .824 save percentage.

Unlike any team UTSA has faced this season, Memphis prides itself on an international flair, featuring 16-of-26 players from outside the U.S., with 11 from Canada, three from Japan and two from Germany. Comparatively, UTSA has three international players and the roster hails otherwise from nine different states.

Now in his 24th season at Memphis, Brooks Monaghan has a career record of 286-148-37 (.646), taking over the Tigers’ helm in 2000 after serving as the team’s goalkeepers coach following a successful playing career at UM. The Tigers have been to the NCAA tournament 11 times, including each of the last five seasons, registering 12 league titles under Monaghan.

UP NEXT: It’s the first single-game week of the season, as the Roadrunners skip Sunday and turn their attention to a familiar foe – set to face North Texas at Park West next Thursday in the teams’ 13th meeting in the series. The victories split last season after UNT took the regular-season matchup and UTSA topped the Mean Green, 2-1, to advance to the Conference USA Tournament final. UNT is 6-2 after falling to Memphis last week on the road, and scheduled to host Rice on Thursday night.


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