Five matches against 2011 NCAA Championship participants, the third battle of I-10 and playing host to the Conference USA Championships highlight the 2012 UTEP soccer schedule, which was released by head coach Kevin Cross Monday afternoon.
The Miners return eight starters and 12 letterwinners overall from last year’s squad (11-8-4) which made a run to the 2011 C-USA Championship title game while notching the program’s 10th straight winning season. Notable returnees include all-league performers Tess Hall and Azia Nicholson and all-freshman team and tournament member Sarah Dilling.
“We are very excited for the 2012 season,” Cross said. “We play three teams out of the gate that were in the NCAA Tournament last year, which will tell us where we stand early on in the season. We have a huge opportunity with the Conference USA Tournament being played in El Paso this year. We hope to continue being a Conference USA leader in attendance in 2012 as our fans give us such a great boost.”
UTEP’s first four games of the year will come against defending conference champions, including the campaign lidlifter at Utah Valley University (Aug. 17). It went 12-7-3 while claiming the Great West Conference crown, and will return five all-league performers from that squad.
The start date will be the earliest in program history, and it will mark the first time since 2007 that UTEP will kick off the year on the road. It will then challenge 2011 NCAA Championship participant and Western Athletic Conference tournament title victor Utah State (Aug. 19).
The Miners are slated to play nine regular-season home games in 2012, with action at University Field initiating with the Border Shootout. The Miners will face a pair of NCAA Tournament teams, in the form of Southland Conference champion Texas State (Aug. 22) and Patriot League victors Army (Aug. 26). TSU finished at 14-5-1 last year while Army compiled a mark of 12-4-5.
UTEP will then take part in a tournament hosted by UC Riverside, with a neutral-site match-up against Southern Utah (Aug. 31) before challenging the host team on Sept. 2. UCR compiled its best record (8-9-1) since 2008 last year.
The third-annual Border Bash is set for the weekend of Sept. 7, with the Miners locking up with Weber State (Sept. 7) and Sam Houston State (Sept. 9). UTEP will cap non-conference action with a bang, heading up the road to take on New Mexico State in what will be the third meeting all time between the programs. UTEP won the first two contests, including a 2-0 defeat of the Aggies in the season opener last year.
Conference USA play takes center stage the ensuing week. UTEP’s first four league matches will be on the road, including a pair in the Eastern Time Zone in the form of games at East Carolina (Sept. 21) and at Marshall (Sept. 23). The Miners continue the roadswing by challenging traditional rival SMU (Sept. 28) and Tulsa (Sept. 30).
UTEP’s reward for the tough start to league action will back-to-back weekends at University Field. The Miners’ C-USA home opener will pit them against UAB (Oct. 5) before battling Memphis in a rematch of the league’s championship contest (Oct. 7). The Tigers were 22-1-1 last year, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championships.
Southern Miss then invades El Paso (Oct. 12), before 2011 NCAA Elite Eight member UCF comes to town (Oct. 14).
The Miners will wrap up the road portion of their league schedule witch games at Rice (Oct. 19) and Houston (Oct. 21) before taking on rival Colorado College on Senior Night (Oct. 26).
For the second time in program history (2007), the league’s pinnacle event will be held at University Field. The 2012 Conference USA Championships open up with quarterfinal action on Oct. 31, with the semifinals tabbed for Nov. 2 and the championship tilt set for Nov. 4.