After playing their first six games of the season at home, the UTEP soccer team will have to get through a grueling four-game road trip before they open Conference USA action.
And so far, so good.
Redshirt freshman Aleah Davis scored on a breakaway with less than four minutes remaining in the contest to give the Miners a 1-0 win over Texas State last Sunday, Sept. 15.
The win was the second consecutive road victory (UTEP beat Houston Baptist 1-0 last Friday) with two more on the schedule for this weekend.
“We grew a lot this weekend,” Head Coach Kevin Cross said. “Road wins are very tough to get, and two shutout wins versus quality sides was incredible. We showed a lot of character and took a big step forward.”
The Miners travel to Flagstaff, Ariz., to take on Northern Arizona on Friday, Sept. 20 (7 p.m., MT), and Southern Utah in Cedar City on Sunday, Sept. 22 (1 p.m., MT).
UTEP has never lost to either team. They own a 3-0 all-time record over Northern Arizona and are 1-0 lifetime against Southern Utah.
“We’ve been doing real good on the road so far, and I’m really proud of the way the team has responded,” Cross said.
“The scheduling got real tricky with so many teams changing conferences; it’s not the ideal situation traveling this much before league play, but at least we get to start our conference season at home.
“We have to play half of our conference games on the road, so this is good preparation for that.”
The end of the current road trip will mark the beginning of the Conference USA season as the Miners open at home on Sept. 27 and 29 against Rice and Southern Mississippi respectively.
After starting the season 2-1-1, the Miners have won three of their last four – all three wins by shutout.
“This team has gotten better every single week,” Cross said. “I’ve really been impressed with our aggressiveness. We’re putting a lot of pressure on our opponents. We just have to get better at putting the ball into the net.
“We’re attacking a lot, but we haven’t taken advantage of all our opportunities. We’re leaving it all on the field and sometimes the difference between scoring a goal and not scoring is just inches.”
Cross, whose overall record in 13 years as the Miners’ head coach is 154-85-13, had led the Miners to 10 straight winning seasons before finishing 10-10 last year.
“I think this is one of the best teams we’ve had here in recent years,” Cross said. “This team is very coachable, they work very hard in practice and they’ve been a really fun group to work with.
“Our senior forwards, Jade Babcock and Azia Nicholson, are having great seasons, along with freshman midfielder [Aleah] Davis. But to do well you have to have everybody playing well, and what’s really helped us out so far has been our depth.”
The Miners will take on teams like Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, UT San Antonio and North Texas in the new-look conference.
“It’s a new challenge to scout and find out everything we can about the new teams,” Cross said. “But the girls are excited about seeing new teams, so we’ll just go out and do the best we can.”
Whoever makes up the conference, Cross is just happy his team will start things around familiar surroundings.
“We’re very good at home, so it’s a huge opportunity for us to start conference with some positive momentum,” Cross said. “We’re really hoping that El Paso will come out and support us because it makes a big difference.”