TSW Q&A: Texas State’s Kat Conner searching regionally, nationally for top recruits
By Charles Boehm and Roger Gonzalez
Long-standing members of the women’s college soccer elite are accustomed to nationwide recruiting, racking up frequent-flyer miles in pursuit of blue-chip talent.
National events offering dense pockets of elite youth talent can present less famous programs with increasing opportunities to do the same, however. Last week’s Elite Clubs National League matches at the Players Development Academy in Zarephath, N.J. were crawling with NCAA Division I coaches of all shapes and sizes, few of whom had traveled further than Texas State University boss Kat Conner.
After a long stint as an assistant at Texas A&M, Conner arrived in San Marcos, Tx., a sleepy riverside city south of Austin, to build the Bobcats program from scratch in 1999. Her program has prospered for most of the past decade and looks set to vault from regional-power status to that of a national contender as NCAA Tournament appearances become annual rituals and the recruiting focus widens.
Conner has led her team to four Southland Conference regular-season titles, four conference tournament championships and four NCAA Tournament appearances, and while the loaded clubs of her home state have provided an ample stream of players, the hunt for “difference-makers” has led her to join what might be termed “the ECNL circuit,” where most tournament weekends pit top Texan teams against fierce competition from the rest of the country.
At Zarephath on Memorial Day weekend, where sweltering temperatures barely reached the level of a typical day during Texas State’s season, the soft-spoken Conner took time out to speak to TSW about recruiting – and its relationship to that famous Lone Star heat – in the latest edition of our Q&A series.
The Soccer Wire: What are you looking for out here at these ECNL showcases?
Kat Conner: Coming from Texas, we are always trying to look at the Texas players and keep them in mind. But then, being able to come out here to ECNL, gives us the opportunity to see other parts of the country and players there. Of course we’re always interested in bringing in new talent into the state of Texas. It has been a good show, and I’ve enjoyed it. Found a lot of good players today.
We kind of chase them [ECNL events] around. It’s good, it’s a high level and you’re seeing some good teams go at it. It is nice to see — it’s helpful that the league has done this. It gets players looking at the idea of playing in college, with the way they sub[stitute], too. It’s kind of the same way we do in college. It’s just been very useful, I think, for the college coaches.
TSW: How often do you see players you didn’t know about, or have someone new pop up at an event like this?
KC: Oh, all the time. I kind of watch the Texas players, and of course any time they play somebody new, then I’m always out there looking for new prospects on the other team. You constantly see new players. I just caught [Pennsylvania side] FC Bucks — I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really know much about out of the state of Texas. When I come [here], it’s more the interesting part of, would they want to come to Texas? Would they be interested in leaving their own state? Because there’s a lot of great talent out there and we’d be interested in having them.
TSW: I would imagine it is a different pitch you make when talking to a player from, say, Connecticut, as opposed to Dallas.
KC: The first thing is, do you like heat? I admit, it is very humid here [in New Jersey], but we have humid and hot [in Texas], so it’s a difference, if they feel like they want to do that. Although we don’t get too much snow where we are at. We had maybe one week of cold weather [last year], and that was around maybe the 30-, 32-degree mark. It’s 60s and 50s all the time [during winter].
TSW: Being from Texas myself, I’m sure your out-of-state recruits get a bit of a shock when two-a-days start in August.
KC: Yeah, we have one Canadian [forward Felicia Leask] and that’s the first question I asked her, if she could deal with the heat. She’s from Alberta, Canada, and the first year, I have to admit, it got to her. Now she stays in the summer and trains, so she’s acclimated to it. It does get you a little bit different…It’s just different aspects around the country that you have to deal with. You’ve got to figure out how to do it.
TSW: Where does the Texas State program stand right now in terms of development and success?
KC: We are actually doing really well. Our RPI [Rating Percentage Index] is around 72, 73. We are trying to get into the [national] top 50, so of course we are trying to pull more of the ECNL players, get them to look into Texas and get us over that hump and get us in there. So it is good right now. We’re in the 13th year of our program, so it’s going well.