Jul. 24—The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will be taking a big step in its "Rally the Valley" initiative by bringing the women's and men's soccer teams to Brownsville in August.
On Friday, UTRGV announced its partnership with the City of Brownsville to hold a youth clinic, women's intrasquad match and a men's preseason match at Brownsville Sports Park.
Chasse Conque, UTRGV vice president and director of athletics, said the COVID-19 pandemic delayed plans to begin having these types of events in the lower Valley in June of 2020. But now that the soccer teams are getting the ball rolling, Cameron County should expect to see more community and youth engagement through the Vaqueros athletic teams.
"As you say Rally the Valley, you have to put content behind that," Conque said. "We're excited that we finally get to show that it's not just talk and that our commitment to Brownsville and to Cameron County is real. We're really excited that soccer gets to be the first there in the city of Brownsville. ... We love the clinic aspect to this. It's not just engaging the community, but the youth in Brownsville."
Women's soccer coach Glad Bugariu and his staff, along with several players that will include the Brownsville natives on the roster, will host a free youth clinic Aug. 13 for girls ages 10-18. The clinic will run from 4:30-6:15 p.m., and an intrasquad match will be played at 7 p.m.
Bugariu said he wants to create an inclusive experience that everyone can enjoy and he's hopeful for a big turnout. He wants the clinic and intrasquad match to not only be beneficial for young players, but also be a learning tool for local coaches.
"The high school players will have a chance to be seen by our staff a little bit, and the younger players can partake in some basic technical skill and enjoy the game," Bugariu said. "I encourage high school coaches to come out and watch us play as it can give them a reference point about how to better cater to their own players. I'm more than happy to share information, I'm always available to share opinions and different techniques and things like that."
The men's team will host St. Mary's at 6 p.m. Aug. 21 at Brownsville Sports Park. Admission to that match and the women's intrasquad match is complimentary.
Men's coach Bryheem Hancock said Brownsville is just as "rich in talent and the culture of soccer" as Edinburg, and he hopes these events will help foster relationships between the lower Valley and UTRGV.
"I think it'll be exciting. It'll be fun for our players to have a preseason match, hopefully a high-level match, with a very good crowd that's cultured in the sport," Hancock said. "I think for us the biggest thing is bringing awareness to the program, but then also that the community (knows) we're all one. ... I look forward to playing more and doing clinics and things like that in the future, and continue to keep coming out there and continue to recruit there."
Both coaches believe watching and working with the Vaqueros teams will help young players see how they need to improve to compete at the NCAA Division I level. They're also excited for local players to shine closer to home and continue to inspire others.
"The players that are from Brownsville, they're big names down there and good inspiration, good female role models for the players there," Bugariu said. "They're players they can relate to right away. They can see a path toward Division I soccer because it's right there in front of them. That's really the main purpose, (to show) there's a pathway from where they are to the Division I game."
Conque understands "how important every part of the Valley is to UTRGV's success, and how important UTRGV is to the Valley's success," and he wants athletics to be the venue that gets the entire Valley behind the school. He credited Brownsville mayor Trey Mendez, the city manager and commissioners for being welcoming, supportive and enthusiastic toward these efforts.
"All of that is part of this plan to make sure that our communities we serve see us as the Valley's team, not just the upper Valley's team," Conque said. "This is just the start. We're going to see more activity during the fall and the spring with our other sports, and as things continue to normalize and we work ourselves out of the pandemic we'll be focusing on next summer, having camps and multi-sport camps and things we can do through June and July. This is a priority for us."