SOCCER: Nicholls (2-1-1) at UL (3-2-1)
WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: UL Track/Soccer Complex
RADIO: none. STREAMING: ragincajuns.com
Lance Key is accustomed to having success, but there’s little doubt that UL’s first-year soccer coach is plenty pumped about the recent play of his Ragin’ Cajun squad.
It’s been three years since the Cajuns (3-2-1) won three straight matches, but that’s the winning streak UL will take into a Wednesday home match against Nicholls (2-1-1). The 7 p.m. match at the UL Track/Soccer Complex was a recent addition to the schedule, boosting the Cajuns to seven home appearances.
UL has beaten Chicago State (2-0), Southern (3-0) and Sam Houston State (2-1) in the past 10 days, the most recent coming on freshman Karleen Bedre’s golden goal in the 103rd minute Sunday in Huntsville, Texas.
“We’re coming off a fantastic week for us,” Key said. “It’s taken us a little bit of time, thinking back all the way to the exhibition slate when we struggled in offensive output and that carried through to the first weekend. Now we’re finding the back of the net a little bit and putting ourselves in position to win matches.”
That position isn’t new for Key, who stands as the third-winningest coach in NCAA history, active or inactive and regardless of division. He had a sterling run over 12 years at Trinity (Texas), where his teams went 210-21-16 for an 88.3 percentage, which trails only Scott Frey of Division III Messiah (92.0) and Anson Dorrance of North Carolina (90.2) among all-time collegiate coaches.
But after what he saw and experienced over the first two weekends, when the Cajuns struggled in two exhibitions and then lost to UTSA and Lamar by a combined 8-1 in Lamar’s tournament, Key wasn’t sure if UL would be able to right the ship quickly.
“You’re coming in new, inheriting a roster and a schedule,” he said. “Anyone can coach their own players. The challenge is coaching someone else’s players. We had to make them ours and take ownership of the opportunity, and that’s been a seamless transition. The girls have been phenomenal, and that’s good since we’re demanding a high level of expectation from them and shifting the mindset a little.”
The results of that shift may have been on display Sunday when the Cajuns saw an early 1-0 lead vanish via a mental lapse that allowed Sam Houston to score a tying goal and force overtime.
“We conceded one, and now what’s our fortitude, how are we going to respond,” Key said. “It was blazing hot, probably 120 degrees on the turf. It’s easy for mental capacity to diminish with the heat.”
In the second overtime, goalie MacKenzie Lee lofted a deep punt in the direction of Bedre, who went on a solo rush and beat Bearkat goalie Abby DeLozier with a header for the game-winner. Bedre had also assisted on Una Einarsdottir’s first-half goal that provided the 1-0 lead.
“She’s a player that can bring a lot of quality in the attacking third,” Key said of Bedre, whose three goals this season is already the most for a Cajun in the last two seasons. “She didn’t have a phenomenal game like she’s had a couple of times, but we put her back in as a late substitution for some energy and she went in and won us the game.”
UL is one of only two Sun Belt Conference teams on a three-match win streak, and has not had a four-match streak since the 2013 season. The Cajun will be trying to match and top that mark in Wednesday’s match and a Sunday match at Northwestern State, before opening Sun Belt play at home against South Alabama on Sept. 22 in an ESPN+/CST broadcast.
The Cajuns went 2-7-1 in Sun Belt play last year, winning only a pair of 1-0 matches against USA and ULM and missing the conference tournament.
Key wore a red-and-white cap with a large “36” on the front during Thursday’s home-opening win over Southern, in honor of the late UL baseball coach Tony Robichaux who passed away in July after 25 years at the Cajun helm. Key was also wearing it Monday while at UL’s athletic complex.
“I wish I’d gotten here earlier because I didn’t have enough time with Coach Robe,” said Key, who received the hat from UL baseball assistant Anthony Babineaux on the day of the Southern match. “But I am grateful for the time I did get with him.
“I asked Coach Bab if he would mind if I wore it that night. I wanted to honor his legacy for what he meant to this place and what that legacy will continue to be. I hope our program can embody the traits that he was successful with.”