Nov 16, 2017

In Season of Goals, Freshman Berg Kicks Texas Soccer into Prominence

Reporting Texas

Haley Berg takes aim on the pitch against TCU. Courtesy of Carlos Garcia, The Daily Texan

Haley Berg sat under the cool evening sky at Mike A Myers Stadium, taking in the last soccer game of her freshman season at Texas.

She considered the past three months. A 5-foot-6 forward and midfielder from tiny Celina in North Texas, Berg came to Austin to honor a commitment she made over four years ago. She’d assisted on a goal in an exhibition match against Incarnate Word. She’d earned a starting spot in her first collegiate match against Rice. Twenty-five seconds in, she scored her first goal.

It didn’t take long for Berg — whom Texas head coach Angela Kelly praised as the “closest definition to the consummate goal scorer that I’ve seen” — to make her mark.

Before Berg arrived, Texas was projected by the conference preseason poll to finish above only two other programs in the Big 12. Last year’s team posted a 1–6–1 conference record and missed the conference and national championships.

Led this season by Berg and her former teammate from FC Dallas, sophomore forward Cyera Hintzen, Texas rattled off a program-record 12 straight wins and finished fourth in the Big 12, taking down the NCAA tournament runner-up, then-No. 5 West Virginia, in the process.

Berg finished the season with five goals, three of them game-winners — the second-most on the team behind Hintzen.

The team’s most valuable pair finished with a combined 32 of Texas’ 76 total season points, and helped the Longhorns reach a season high of No. 7 in the country — its highest ranking since 2008.

Now, on the pitch on senior night, Berg huddled on her black Texas jacket and felt the pieces had fallen into place. Texas had lost the matchup in overtime, its first loss of the season in extra minutes, on a shot that, as sophomore goalie Nicole Curry described it, the Cowgirls “kind of got lucky with.”  But the sour end couldn’t dampen the 17-game stretch that transformed the program narrative and catapulted the Longhorns back into the national spotlight.

“Getting wins has been my proudest moment this season,” Berg said. “And proving people wrong. They ranked us No. 8 in the conference preseason poll. So ending the season and proving those people wrong has been a really proud moment for me, and everyone else.”

This season proved the realization of a dream years in the making. Entering the ninth grade, she was fielding scholarship offers from the Texas, Colorado and Texas A&M. She was the subject of a 2014 story in the New York Times about college recruiting and youth soccer.

There was never any question where she’d end up. Well before her commitment, and even before she had any idea she might play at the collegiate level, Berg was drawn to Texas.

“I remember when I was 4 my dad coached my team, and he asked me to name it,” Berg said. “So I named it the Longhorns. I have always had a love for Texas.”

Berg earned conference freshman-of-the-year honors, following in the footsteps of Hintzen — last year’s recipient. The duo, along with junior midfielder Katie Glenn, also earned spots on the Big 12 All-Conference teams.

“Our friendship has definitely helped the chemistry between us,” Hintzen said. “It’s great having another player on the field that reads the game the same way as you. Like, I know if I made this run she can get the ball to me. It’s a great relationship to have on and off the field.”

The pair helped one another all season long. Hintzen was a source of experience. She kept things light through months of grinding.

“Cyera is a great leader,” Berg said. “Her and I have been really close friends since I was little. I’m just glad that we got to play in college together. And we will for the next two years.”

Two more seasons spell trouble for the rest of the Big 12. After a storybook start, Berg says she still has a lot to prove. And three years to make it happen.

“I think that it’s been a great season, it’s been everything I hoped it would be and more, but I think don’t think that we’ve accomplished much yet,” Berg said. “We have so much left.”