Gabby Zarnegar

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

As a freshman, Gabby Zarnegar felt lost. Despite seeing substantial playing time, Zarnegar bounced from position to position and struggled to find stability.

That changed her junior season. 

New head coach Angela Kelly gave Zarnegar the stability she sought, helping Zarnegar find her role. Now, with her senior year winding down, Zarnegar is a strong leader for a Longhorn team that has a shot to win the Big 12 tournament this week.

“I’m more confident going into the tournament than any other year,” Zarnegar said. “I just need to do my role as a senior.”

Zarnegar’s Texas career got off to a fast start. She played in 20 of the team’s 21 games and posted her first career goal in her freshman debut.

But things went downhill from there. Zarnegar got sick near the end of the season and saw less playing time. When Zarnegar did get on the pitch, she had a hard time finding her place on the field.

“I didn’t know where to go,” Zarnegar said. “I went from outside midfielder to outside forward to mid center.”

Her fortunes changed with a new head coach. Then-head coach Chris Petrucelli stepped down and Kelly took over the job. With the change, it gave Zarnegar a chance to start anew, establishing a consistent role on the team. 

“[Kelly] put a lot of power into the player’s hand,” Zarnegar said. “That really helped me become a great leader.”

Kelly, who didn’t watch any film of the players and didn’t worry about them prior to coming to Texas — allowing everyone a fresh start — said she’s just there for all her players. 

“She knows she can call me at any time and I’ll be there,” Kelly said.

Zarnegar found her spot on the field as a forward and midfielder. She prides herself on being a nuisance for opponents in the middle of the pitch, leading Kelly to call her the team’s “Energizer Bunny.”

She’s been able to turn her bad early experiences into one of her best characteristics.

“When things start to go bad for us, she doesn’t let us get down,” sophomore forward Kelsey Shimmick said.

With only five career goals, Zarnegar hasn’t exactly lit up the box score. But the plays not shown in the stats — her hustle and fighting for the ball — do not go unnoticed by her teammates.

“When she goes in for a hard tackle and doesn’t give up, it makes you want to get the ball the way she does,” Shimmick said.

Zarnegar said she will probably be done with soccer once her college career is over, and with a spot in the NCAA tournament not guaranteed for the Longhorns, each game could be her last.

But she isn’t thinking about that. Instead, Zarnegar is focused on leading Texas to a Big 12 tournament title. 

“It would be the pinnacle of everything I want this season,” Zarnegar said. “It’s been a long road for us. I feel like this year it’s our time.”

No. 25 Texas soccer notched its second straight shutout Friday, beating Stephen F. Austin 2-0 in Nacogdoches despite being outshot by the Ladyjacks.

The Longhorns 12 total shots, only five of those on goal, were enough to secure the win despite Stephen F. Austin’s 16 total shots, including seven from forward Chelsea Raymond.

The pair of goals for Texas was split between the halves and goalkeepers, one coming from senior midfielder Gabby Zarnegar on keeper Lacey Lee and the other from freshman midfielder Julia Dyche beating the Ladyjacks’ second keeper, Morgan Glick.  

Zarnegar got her shot off in just the sixth minute off a corner kick from junior midfielder Sharis Lachappelle. Lachappelle sent the ball in from the right side, and the cross caught the head of Zarnegar, who put it in the back of the net. Zarnegar’s second goal of the season ended a drought dating back to Sept. 6 against Samford.

In the second half, Dyche scored her first career goal on a cross from sophomore forward Kelsey Shimmick. After Shimmick drove the ball up the right side of the field, she crossed it to the box, finding the feet of Dyche, who sent it on the ground past the keeper.

Sophomore goalkeeper Abby Smith recorded her eighth shutout of the season, topping last year’s seven. Smith also recorded a career-high in saves with seven.

Texas will look to extend its winning streak to six in its final match of the regular season against Texas Tech in Lubbock on Friday before the Big 12 tournament begins the following week. 

Angela Kelly is in her second season as head coach at Texas.

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

Sunday was Senior Day at Mike A. Myers Stadium, and Gabby Zarnegar and Brenda Saucedo took their last kicks on home grass. 

It made for a nice moment at the first whistle when Saucedo, who rarely starts, got a huge hug from head coach Angela Kelly on her way off the field. Kelly is 11-4-2 in her second year at Texas and will likely have a second-place Big 12 finish and NCAA tournament berth to add to her already impressive resume.

Kelly came to Texas after a 12-year stint as head coach at Tennessee. The Tennessee Lady Vols had national recognition and success in just about every sport but soccer before her arrival, but Kelly built the group into title contenders.

During pre-game ceremonies, Kelly showed genuine affection for Zarnegar and Saucedo, players she
didn’t recruit.

There have been far too many college coaches fired or disciplined in the past few years for berating, abusing and even assaulting players. Most of them try and excuse themselves as passionate or old-school, but those excuses are just press-conference rationalizations for bad behavior.

Kelly is as intense as any coach. But before the pre-game huddle breaks and after the final whistle, she is as relaxed as she would be at a Sunday picnic with family.

She was all hugs and smiles at the pre-game ceremony for Zarnegar and Saucedo, and while Zarnegar will be sorely missed, every other major contributor from this team is expected back next season.

This list includes sophomore goalkeeper Abby Smith, as well as her classmates Kelsey Shimmick, Lindsey Meyer, Chantale Campbell and Emilie Campbell. 

Add freshman Marchelle Davis to that group and that makes six starters who aren’t even taking upper-division classes yet. 

Davis, Smith and teammates are fortunate to have a coach with the skills to make them better players, the experience to give words gravity and the ability to motivate and instruct in a positive manner.

It is a joy to watch this team play, and of course, winning makes everyone happier. When the field starts to tilt against the Longhorns, Kelly is at her best, orchestrating and encouraging all at once.

After last season’s 8-10-2 extended get-to-know-you session, Kelly and her team are clicking well enough to be an NCAA tournament team and perhaps the first UT squad to reach the Sweet 16 since 2007.

Regardless of how far into November the Longhorns can keep themselves on the field, this season has been a success. Usually it is fair to give a new coach four full seasons to get her own players onto the roster, but Kelly doesn’t seem to need that.

Next year the expectations will be much higher, but after what she did at Rocky Top, we know Angela Kelly isn’t afraid of heights.

Texas women’s soccer returns home, after losing both games of a two-game road trip, to take on Samford on Friday and Illinois State on Sunday in Austin at Mike A. Meyers Track and Soccer Stadium.

Senior midfielder Gabby Zarnegar said the losses will not affect the team this weekend. 

“We built our mentality this week to be more competitive and not be soft on teams,” Zarnegar said. “We want to really impose our style onto them.”

In their last outing, the Longhorns lost to Oregon 2-1 in Eugene, despite outshooting the Ducks 14-9 and forcing eight corner kicks to Oregon’s four. Zarnegar had a team-leading four shots in the game, but was unable to score.

Texas’ only goal came off a penalty kick 85 minutes into the game from junior defender Brooke Gilbert after freshman forward Jasmine Hart was taken down by Oregon goalkeeper Abby Steele in the box.

Longhorn keeper Abby Smith had three saves that day but was unable to stop two first-half goals by the Ducks.

“There’s a ton of positives I took out of this weekend: being second in the nation in corner kicks and leading in the minutes of possession of each game and shots,” head coach Angela Kelly said. “It’s not for a lack of organizing for success in terms of creating, it’s now organizing for success to dominate and put a ball in early.”

Friday will be the second meeting between Texas and Samford in program history. The Bulldogs posted an 8-1-2 Southern Conference record in 2012 and returned seven starters for 2013. So far this season Samford holds a 2-1 record and is coming off a win against in-state rival Auburn for the first time in school history.  

Texas has never played against Illinois State, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference — a conference Texas soccer has only played against one other time in program history. The Redbirds won the 2012 Missouri Valley conference title, but after beating Miami (Ohio) 3-2, they lost their last three matches and allowed at least four goals in each match.  This is a stat the Longhorns hope to take advantage of as they attempt to break their streak of out-shooting opponents and losing.