Photos and story by Herman Delgado
Before the 2018 UTEP soccer season began, one could already sense the positive energy coming from soccer coach Kevin Cross, his staff and several of his player. They were ready to take the field.
The World Cup was in full swing and UTEP soccer was holding two of its soccer camps in June and July. Soccer fever was in the air and many couldn’t wait for the soccer team’s home opener on Aug. 17. The team wanted to put behind the 2017 season. It started off with five consecutive losses and finished up the year 8-11. It was the team’s first losing season since 2001.
Whenever talking to Cross, the topic of conversation always starts off with family. He immediately smiles and his eyes light up with pride. Get him talking about his UTEP Soccer family and you get the same reaction.
At a recent soccer game, Cross was shown a picture of his family greeting him on the field with hugs and he immediately said, “You’ve got a picture of the most important people in my life.”
Cross carries that pride, loyalty and respect on to the field, to his office. All that rubs off on his staff, players, and those that come around him…it’s contagious.
“Team unity is a big part of our culture…we’re a family,” he said. “My staff all played for me. Staff is all a family, family is an over-riding theme of the whole program.”
Cross, who is from Richardson, Texas, attended Austin College and played on the soccer team for three years. He transferred to Texas A&M and for the next two years continued his involvement in soccer while earning his Master’s in Business Administration.
“I earned an MBA to coach soccer!” Cross explained.
Cross remembers when he first joined the UTEP program back in 1997.
“There were no lights, no lockers, no offices, there was nothing” he said.
Cross has now been at the helm since 2001. As he celebrates his 18th year, he’s enjoying every minute from his coaching staff, players to most importantly his family, including wife, Carrie, son, Chase, and daughter, Chelsea. It is what keeps him grounded and his passion for the game keeps him going strong.
At the team’s next game against Northern Illinois (NIU), Cross handed out a flyer with the soccer team’s photo and the words: “Wearing the same uniform doesn’t make you a team. Coming together-is the start. Playing together-is progress. Working together-is success. And winning together is the result.”
Cross has been making flyers with encouraging words for his players since he took over the program in 2001. It’s this positive attitude that catches many people’s attention.
Listening to these young women on the team is like seeing a large family made up of many sisters.
Soccer is a very demanding sport that requires players to be in top condition and the training, preparation, and El Paso heat can take its toll on players.
“We often replace practice with fun events in order to keep things fun and interesting around here,” Cross said.
UTEP has five seniors on this year’s squad. They include Alyssa Palacios (5), Payton Ross (9), Sheridan Smith (11), Carleigh Simmons (19) and Jodie Enokson (19).
Watching the energy and respect Palacios, Ross, and Smith have for one another and their teammates, is what this team is all about. People can see the unity and strong leadership.
“I definitely feel like we’re going to hit our stride like when we need to,” Palacios said. “If there’s a time to work out the kinks and make mistakes, it’s definitely like the first half of the season when it’s non-conference games. So, I feel like we’re building and we’re progressing more, so once conference starts we’re definitely going to win those big games.” Ross agreed.
“We are hitting our stride and this is the time to make mistakes,” Ross said. “We’ve got a lot of soccer left to play. We made our mistakes early in the season, we fixed them, and now we’re getting ready for some bigger games.”
Smith added, “I agree with both, but personally, I think we’ve done better than last season. I think we have the talent this year. We have a lot of depth, up top, mid-field, and defense.”
This type of positive attitude and discipline is what also has assistant coach Heather Clark feeling confident about the remainder of the season.
“I’m pretty pleased with where we’re at,” Clark said. “We seem to finally be working together in different groups. I think it will come around in time for conference which is our main goal.”
As of this writing, UTEP is 4-2-0 in the standings. They defeated Grand Canyon (2-1) and Northern Illinois (1-0 2OT). Two strong wins as they prepare to hit the road for the next three games. They will return to University Soccer Field to take on Marshall on Sept. 20.