UTSA soccer makes improbable run to NCAA Tournament

Roadrunners upset their way to C-USA Conference Tournament title, and now have their sights set on bigger goals.

SAN ANTONIO — When UTSA senior defender Kendall Kloza arrived as a transfer in 2019, a conference tournament title may not have been on the team’s radar. 

“My first year here, girls on the team didn’t even know there was such thing as a conference tournament,” says Kloza. 

Now, she’s won one. 

With a remarkable three wins in five days at last week’s Conference USA Tournament, the Roadrunners secured their first-ever C-USA Tournament title and booked a ticket to their second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. 

“Quick turnaround,” Kloza said. “Four years later and we’re winning the whole thing. Going to the NCAA Tournament is really exciting.”

Heading into the C-USA Tournament last week as the sixth overall seed, head coach Derek Pittman’s message was straightforward. 

“Simply, let’s win number one, right?” says Pittman, who is in his fifth season at the helm. 

The Roadrunners did just that, knocking off tournament 3-seed UAB, with Anna Sutter hammering home the winning goal in overtime. 

“We won against UAB and we were like, ‘We don’t want to wait another day,'” says Kloza, a team captain. “‘We want to play right now. We want to go.'” 

After a day of rest, UTSA knocked off second-seeded North Texas, 2-1, to secure a spot in Sunday’s final. After going up 2-0 at halftime over Florida Atlantic in the championship, the Owls scored twice to force overtime. 

But Marlee Fray’s header off a corner kick pushed the Roadrunners ahead for good. They would win, 3-2, securing the C-USA conference championship.  

It’s UTSA’s first Conference USA title in school history. It will also be their last, as they prepare to move to the American Athletic Conference next season.

“My father passed away a little over a year ago,” said Pittman on his emotions of winning. “So to be able to win this championship and have my mom and my brother there was just a dream come true, as a coach and as a person.

“I consider myself very lucky.”

The Cinderella run earns UTSA a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, where they will face nationally ranked TCU in the first round on Friday night (7 p.m. CT, ESPN+). 

For UTSA’s seniors, like Kloza, their career has come full circle. 

“To work so hard for the four years, five years total in college and see it actually come to light,” adds Kloza. “And do what you set out to do is really really amazing.”  

“My emotion seeing the clock count down knowing that we won was the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had in my life, in my career. Such a core memory, I will carry that with me forever.”

It’s even cooler for Kloza that she is a San Antonio native and graduate of Lee High School. She transferred home to UTSA after a freshman season at VCU. 

“It’s safe to say I made the right decision,” she says with a smile.

It will be another uphill battle against TCU, who are ranked as a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

But the Roadrunners are playing with house money, and confidence not many can lay claim to. 

“I mean, we didn’t come this far just to come this far,” says sixth-year senior Isa Hernandez. “We’re excited, we’re buzzing. We’re very, very good on first and second balls, and we’re very disciplined when it comes to defending and how we press.” 

Regardless of the result on Friday night, UTSA’s soccer season has set the table for future success heading into the AAC next fall.

“When I got here in 2018, we sat down and talked about what we wanted this to be,” says Pittman. “I don’t know if any one of us would have predicted that were standing here five years later with a conference championship. But our players believed.

“I said it when I got hired here that UTSA is an absolute diamond in the rough.” 

With another win over a nationally ranked opponent on Friday, Pittman’s “rough” could get real. 

“It’s a lot of fun to be on the ride.”

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