While both the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets and Lady Jackets are still suffering from some of the growing pains that come with being three-year-old programs, both expect to be a lot closer to competing for postseason berths in the American Southwest Conference.
Sam McCutchen is entering his third year as head coach of the Lady Jackets, who were tabbed to finish eighth out of 14 teams in the ASC race. The Lady Jackets posted a 5-11-1 record in their second season, including a 4-8-1 mark in conference action. Howard Payne is also building off a string of three victories in their final four games to close the 2007 campaign.
For the Yellow Jackets, Kevin Wright is taking over as head coach after serving as the assistant during Howard Payne’ first two seasons. The Yellow Jackets, who were picked to place 12th in the ASC preseason poll, finished with a 4-12-1 record and 3-9-1 conference mark. Like the Lady Jackets, the Jackets also finished solidly by splitting their final two contests.
With eight juniors on the roster, the Yellow Jackets feel experience will be one of their strengths this season.
“We’re returning three of the four starters from last year in our back line,” Wright said. “We also feel that we will have to get solid play from our midfield.”
One of the areas of concern for the Yellow Jackets is establishing more consistency, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
“Last year we felt that we were going to get a good effort defensively most games, but still had some lapses,” Wright said. “We definitely have to improve from last year in the attack.”
The Yellow Jackets allowed 37 goals last season, while tallying just 14.
Malcolm Framjee returns in goal after chalking up 95 saves and stopping 73 percent of the shots directed his way.
Offensively, all but only player who scored at least one goal last season returns. The top returning scorer is Chris Martinez, with three goals, while Dennis Benitez and Malcolm Wentworth are back after finding the net twice last year. Scoring one goal apiece were Brice Reusink, Brandon Hopper and Wildredo Larios.
Wright is also beaming about the freshman class the Yellow Jackets have assembled, which accounts for 15 of the 31 players listed on the roster.
“We feel that we have brought in a very talented and deep recruiting class,” Wright said. “I think that we have a few freshmen that will immediately be able to fill some voids that we have needed to address the last couple of years. I’m excited about the depth of this class and feel that it may very well be our best class to date.”
Among the key returnees for McCutchen, who could not be reached for comment, are senior midfielder Ashli McCutchen and junior midfielder Susana Chavarria, the only two upperclassmen on the 20-player roster.
Nelly Ruiz, who scored four goals, and Chavarria, who found the net once, are the only scorers back from last year’s 20-goal squad. Gone are leading scorer Felicia Pena (10 goals), as well as Liz McDonald-Smith (two goals) and Diana Bolanos (one goal).
Howard Payne also must replace its goal keeper, as Nicole Pena did not return following a 125-save season and a 69 percent rate of success.
Like the Jackets, significant contributions are expected to be made by the Lady Jackets’ freshman class, which includes former Brownwood Lady Lion forward Ta’Kenda Cotton. The freshmen comprise 14 of 20 roster spots.
The Lady Jackets host Wayland Baptist at 4 p.m. today at Citizens National Bank Field, the first of three straight home contests to start the season. Following a 13-day break after its first road contest, HPU will host Schreiner in the ASC opener Sept. 19.
The Yellow Jackets open their season at 5 p.m. Saturday at Citizens National Bank Field against Texas Wesleyan. The first five Yellow Jacket games will be at home, including the ASC opener against Schreiner Sept. 19.