There’s been no trash talk between Texas and Texas A&M soccer players this week. If anything, it’s been the opposite. The conversations that have taken place are akin to old friends preparing for a reunion.
There’s little, if any, bad blood between the programs. Why should there be? Like football, the Longhorns and Aggies haven’t met on a soccer pitch since 2011, when most players were in middle school.
Back then, Texas midfielder Haley Berg was teammates with several players she’ll be facing Friday during a first-round NCAA tournament match at Ellis Field in College Station. Aggies like Addie McCain, Jordan Hill, Abby Grace Cooper and Karlina Sample all came up through the tight-knit Dallas club soccer scene that produced key pieces from both programs.
“We were just saying how excited we are to play each other, how excited we are to see each other,” Berg said. “We’re in Texas but we never play them and we never really get to see them since we’ve played club. It was more, ‘I can’t wait to see you’ kind of texts, not about soccer.”
The feelings of rivalry will come mostly from the stands, where a constantly raucous A&M soccer crowd will try to make things uncomfortable for the Longhorns. Like her players, Texas coach Angela Kelly has never coached against the Aggies. She moved from the SEC — and her previous job at Tennessee — to the Big 12 the same year A&M went the other direction.
But Kelly is familiar with heated rivalries, having played at North Carolina from 1991-94.
“I don’t get caught up too much in that,” she said. “I’ve been in the Duke-Carolina rivalry a ton as a player, the Florida-Tennessee rivalry as a coach. I’ve been in this type of environment before, and to be honest I kind of thrive in this.”
Conversations have even been opened between Kelly and A&M coach G Guerreri about re-igniting the old flame, but as of yet nothing is on the schedule. Like in other sports, where the Longhorns and Aggies have had 15 postseason meetings since 2012, they were bound to meet in the NCAA tournament eventually.
“At some point, we were going to play one another,” Kelly said.
A&M will be the favorite. In addition to home-field advantage, the Aggies (13-4-3) were ranked No. 22 in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll. Texas (11-7-1) is unranked. Both teams got extra rest after falling in the first round of their respective conference tournaments.
“Something got taken away from us and we’re ready to prove ourselves and show that we deserve to go far in this tournament,” Texas goalkeeper Savannah Madden said of the Longhorns’ penalty shootout loss to TCU.
Kelly said forward Julia Grosso (8 goals, 7 assists) will be back after suffering a back injury in the final regular-season match against Oklahoma, plugging back in with Berg (8 goals, 9 assists) and Cyera Hintzen (5 goals, 4 assists).
The Aggies are led by forward Ally Watt (15 goals, six assists) and Mexican international outside back Jimena Lopez (9 goals, 13 assists).
For two storied programs, the rarity of the occasion will make it extra special. Both for the fans and the players on the pitch.
“A game like this every season would be really cool, just because of the history between Texas and Texas A&M,” Berg said. “At the same time, it’s even cooler we’re getting to reunite in this environment on this stage.”