Between having a revamped coaching staff and onboarding 11 newcomers to the team, UTEP women's soccer first-year head coach Kathryn Balogun continues to welcome the freshness in creating a program and establishing the new foundation.

The program will enter its 24th season of action this year and will begin the 2019 season on the road this Saturday against Eastern New Mexico for their first exhibition game, followed by their first official game next Thursday, Aug. 22 against Wyoming at University Field.

"I love new," said Balogun, who previously coached for Texas Southern. "I don't know if I've been anywhere for more than five years—maybe El Paso is my home. I love coming together, finding what is strong about a place and then building on those strengths."

In the midst of the newness stands senior defender Lauren Crenshaw, who starred in all of UTEP's 16 games last year. She enjoys playing the defensive-centric style that Balogun has implemented and wants to work on fully integrating the newcomers to the squad.

"Been a little bit harder. There's 11 freshmen so they outweigh us by a lot," Crenshaw said. "I think they will be good, especially if we mentor them good. Once they are seniors, they will know how to carry things in the program in hopefully a positive direction."

 

The Miners finished 7-8-4 (2-5-3 C-USA) last year under long-time head coach Kevin Cross. Following the 12th place finish in the conference, Cross was removed as the head coach.

Balogun inherited a team this offseason that lost five starters and a total of 10 letter winners. She describes this new bunch as a possession-heavy team that will emphasize defense and might need help offensively.

"We'll be very disciplined in all aspects of it but also we will be really creative," she said. "We're looking to approach each game individually. Scoring, if I'm going to be honest, might be difficult for us. We've lost a lot of upfront momentum. We're counting on some young players—some freshmen and sophomores—to step up and fill those shoes."

Among the 11 freshmen, there is a nice bunch of local talent like Jackie Miller (Franklin), Adriana Lopez (El Paso HS) and Bella Benavides (El Paso HS). UTEP has traditionally capitalized on local standouts and Balogun wants to continue that tradition for the program.

"That's a shoutout to the last coaching staff," Balogun said. "They found local talent here. None of them were players we've seen before preseason started. We've been really pleased. Multiple [local freshmen] will make a really big impact this year and continuing throughout. If they want to stay here and they are the talent that is going to help us be successful, we want them here."

 

And as they gear up to kick off their season in the coming days, the team acknowledged the importance of supporting the community following the tragic mass shooting on Aug. 3.

"As a team, this year we're playing for something bigger than ourselves," Crenshaw said. "We're going to be wearing El Paso Strong shirts in our pregame. Hopefully, we can bring the community together, playing for something bigger than us this season. Hopefully, we can win a lot of games at home."

UTEP and ENMU will begin their exhibition game in Portales, N.M., at 7 p.m. on Saturday.