In July 2013, Babak Abouzar landed his first head coaching job at TWU and set out to resurrect a program that had endured four consecutive losing seasons.
The eighth-year head coach has taken the program to new heights, compiling a 63-53-14 record with the Pioneers, who had accumulated a mark of just 63-119-23 before Abouzar’s arrival.
Abouzar continued to rewrite the history books last Friday after a 1-0 win over Angelo State. The victory was TWU’s 12th of the season, a new program record for most wins in a single season.
“It’s huge [for our program],” Abouzar said of the new record. “It’s more special for me to see our players enjoy it and be part of our program’s history.”
TWU is also ranked No. 4 in the NCAA Division II South Central Region.
On Saturday, the Pioneers dropped a 2-1 match against a solid St. Edwards squad. The loss dropped TWU to fourth place in the LSC standings.
In the new Lone Star Conference that features 19 members — the most among all NCAA divisions — the top seven women’s soccer teams in the LSC standings advance to the conference tournament. The top seed will get a first-round bye and host the semifinals and finals, while the No. 2,3 and 4 seeds will host their respective opening-round matchups.
So the Pioneers have an opportunity to host a first-round game at Pioneer Soccer Park if they can rattle off two road wins this weekend against St. Mary’s (3-8 in LSC) and Texas A&M International (1-8-2 in LSC).
“We need some momentum heading into the conference tournament,” Abouzar said. “We want to be able to play in front of our home crowd and sleep in our own beds. This weekend is huge for us to create momentum and give us a chance to host a first-round game.”
Volleyball: Injuries plague TWU on West Texas road trip
After winning three straight games over a two-week span, TWU lost a five-set thriller to Lubbock Christian on Friday before getting swept at No. 17 Angelo State on Saturday.
The Pioneers suffered several injuries to key starters in the middle of the Lubbock Christian match, which forced coach Jeff Huebner and his staff to shuffle around the lineup for Saturday’s match in San Angelo.
During pregame, the Pioneers were working on different formations and lineups that they had never practiced before, which made for an unconventional rotation against the Belles.
“You know Saturday was an atypical lineup for us,” Huebner said. “Being down two starters put pressure on some of our players, but I was really proud of the way we competed.”
Freshman Addison Mulroney stepped up in the wake of TWU’s injuries and led the Pioneers with 16 kills on the weekend while hitting an impressive .450 at Angelo State.
The Pioneers are still unhealthy, but with a full week of preparation for a crucial home-and-home series against Midwestern State, Huebner and his squad feel confident about the game plan for the weekend.
“We’re a program that prides itself in being prepared and being flexible-minded,” Huebner said. “We’ve got a unique challenge this weekend because the matches against Midwestern State are really important when it comes to RPI and seeding in the conference tournament.”
Basketball: Pioneers to open regular season on Saturday
After injuries hampered the 2018-19 season, the Pioneers will open up a new season at 6 p.m. Saturday at Kitty Magee Arena against Champion Christian College.
The Pioneers will be honoring all veterans and first responders at the game in addition to taking donations for Denton police Officer Urbano Rodriguez Jr., who is recovering from wounds after being shot in the line of duty last week.
Coach Beth Jillson — the program’s all-time winningest coach — returns for her 13th season at TWU and has led the Pioneers to seven straight Lone Star Conference tournament appearances.
“We’re just excited about a new season,” Jillson said. “We’ve had some scrimmages and our tune-up game against UNT, but we’re excited to compete against somebody else.”
TWU returns 11 players from last year’s squad and will be led by senior Carissa Moody and standout sophomore Macy Wilkerson. In the LSC’s preseason poll, the Pioneers are picked to finish 10th out of 18 teams.
“It’s a little bit different this year because of our conference gaining so many members,” Jillson said. “There’s some new teams, a different format and different travel, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”