Olivia Brook

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Texas soccer’s first NCAA tournament game since 2011 ended with a comfortable 3-0 win over the Conference USA champion, Rice Owls. But now the Longhorns will travel to College Station for their next challenge — a matchup against the No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Friday. 

The Longhorn attack launched a three-goal barrage last week, but the Texas offense will be hard pressed to replicate that feat against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame’s stalwart sophomore goalkeeper Kaela Little has been solid behind the Notre Dame backline, shutting out the opposition in 12 of the 19 contests she has played in this season.

“We just know that when we get our opportunities, we will have to put them away,” senior defender Brooke Gilbert said. “We’ve played against many good goalkeepers this season.”

Fortunately for the Longhorns, freshman forward Olivia Brook looks ready to lead the Texas offense into a tough stretch of games. The team’s leading goal scorer kicked off her debut campaign by scoring five goals in five games before dropping into obscurity and scoring only one more regular season goal.

Brook, however,  has looked as good as advertised her last couple of outings. Brook tapped in a goal against Rice and came very close to scoring two more in the Big 12 Championship tournament.

On the other side of the ball, the veteran Texas backline will be well-equipped to deal with the Notre Dame offense. The Texas defense lived up to challenges against No. 1 UCLA and No. 7 West Virginia and has conceded just one regulation goal in three tough postseason games.

The Longhorn midfield,  however, could be the most essential unit in halting the Irish attack Friday. Texas head coach Angela Kelly referred to Morgan Andrews, Notre Dame midfielder and assist leader, as an “engine in the midfield.” Given enough time, the sophomore has the talent to pick apart the Longhorn defense.

However, Longhorn midfielder Sharis Lachappelle looks like the Longhorn most suited for the challenge. The senior has used her physical play to her advantage this season, even earning a caution or two along the way.  

If No. 3 Texas A&M is able to knock off Arizona  at 7 p.m. Friday, a potential Sunday matchup between the old Texas foes is an enticing prospect for those who know the history of the rivalry.

“I haven’t played against them since my freshman year, so I’m really excited that there’s the potential that we get to play them again,” Gilbert said. “It’s in our blood, that rivalry. Any time Texas gets to play Texas A&M again, it’s awesome.”

Texas will have to get through another top-15 team in order to face the Aggies, but a pair of wins over a highly ranked Texas Tech team and close games against UCLA and West Virginia have shown that the Longhorns have the ability to compete with the best in the nation.

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns were lucky to stumble through the first 90 minutes of last month’s conference opener against No. 10 Texas Tech without conceding a goal. But Texas was unable to maintain a consistent threat on the Raider net, and Texas Tech sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Watson repelled any serious chances. Neither team had scored when the clock struck 90.

Most teams would look to their veteran players to clutch an overtime game against such an important opponent, but not this year’s Texas team. Seven minutes into the first sudden death period, freshman forward Olivia Brook charged down the right side, received a pass from sophomore forward Jasmine Hart and floated a beautiful shot into the top-left corner of the net for a game-winning goal and a huge upset win. But Brook’s heroics were no fluke. The youngster is leading the team with six goals through 13 games, making her one of the Longhorns’ keys to success this season.

“She doesn’t even know how great she’s been doing for us,” senior midfielder Sharis Lachappelle said. “She just goes out there and makes unbelievable shots and goals. She brings energy in every single practice.”

Brook has thrived in the Longhorns’ possession-based attack, which requires incredible patience; trigger-happy freshmen can often waste shots, which leads to squandered possessions. However, Brook appears immune to that stigma. Twelve of the freshman’s 20 shots have landed on goal for a .600 shots on goal average that eclipses the team’s .441 number.

Brook has been a constant contributor since she stepped onto the field, but the confident freshman expected nothing less from herself in her first year of college soccer.

“I hold myself to pretty high standards,” Brook said. “[Being the leading scorer] is a great feeling, but I don’t really think about that. It’s not about me; it’s how we do as a whole.”

Most college coaches can only dream of getting the chance to work with a player who can contribute in her first months on a college campus. Kelly, though, has not fallen into the trap of pampering her young phenomenon and, instead, believes athletes of any classification should be treated the same. 

“As soon as you walk on this campus, I say that you’re no longer a freshman — you’re a Texas Longhorn,” Kelly said. “It’s baptism by fire. If you’re ready to go, and you’re getting the job done, you’re on the field.”

Very few upperclassmen have the talent to upset the elite of college soccer and light up the scoreboard on a regular basis. But Brook has done all of that as a freshman, and, true to her form, the young attacker is still concerned about getting better.

“I am working on my striking; I’m working on my movement,” Brook said. “I’m learning how to get in good positions for my fellow teammates and just working to get in the best spots to score … or just all the movements I need to do to get the team to win.”