Texas A&M faces LSU on Halloween night at 7 p.m. at Ellis Field, where a victory would give the Aggies the SEC Championship.
AGGIE SOCCER'S ROCK
senior Rachel Lenz anchors a stingy A&M defense,
all the while leading by example on and off the field
by Chandler Smith
For defender extraordinaire Rachel Lenz, it didn’t take long to make her presence felt on one of the nation’s premier women’s soccer programs.
Graduating early from high school to drill with the Texas A&M soccer team, Lenz would clinch an emotional early goal in her Aggie debut – her Aggie practice debut that is.
So caught in adrenaline and enthusiasm, she would celebrate the achievement as if she had scored the winning goal in the final game of the NCAA tournament.
- G Guerrieri
Lenz, as teammates would jokingly remind her, was only but a fish.
“I scored off of a corner and I freaked out like I had won the World Cup,” Lenz recalled. “I jumped on one of the girls and started celebrating and she just went along with me so I thought it was normal. Only afterwards they would say, ‘This is practice.’ It was probably my most embarrassing Aggie moment.”
The context was only practice and Lenz was simply a freshman, but her impact would be significant then, and for the following three years when it mattered most – on the playing field.
Now a senior, Lenz has refined her skills as she leads an Aggie team currently steamrolling over its conference competition. Only one of two players in her graduating class, she’s embraced the challenge of being one of few upperclassmen leaders on a team claiming an impressive 8-2 SEC record.
“She’s always been a ‘do-as I-do’ type of leader,” said head coach G Guerrieri. “She’s been a great example in the weight room, in the practice field and when we travel. Everything around the team has been rock solid and she’s a great student. She leads by example in just about everything she does.”
An All-Big 12 first-team honoree her freshman year, the accolades would only continue to pile for the up-and-coming star. Already a team co-captain by sophomore year, she would rejoin the Big 12 first-team ranks after helping the Aggies hold their opponents to less than half the shots Texas A&M would attempt itself. The foundation of a gritty defense in A&M’s SEC debut season in 2012, she would assist in a defense holding opponents to a school-record 15 shutouts.
Testing her abilities not only against Big 12 and SEC competition, she’s taken her talents to more exotic locales than her Texas native land. Unique as a travelled student of international culture, Lenz has trained in some of the sport’s premier countries, including hotbeds Brazil and Spain.
Lenz said the opportunity to immerse herself in other countries’ soccer environments aided in perfecting her own skills.
“Getting to play in different cultures is a huge learning experience, as is an understanding of what the different cultures bring to soccer,” Lenz said. “In most of the other countries, soccer is the sport and there’s such a passion there. Brazil was super finesse and loved to get touches [on the ball]. In Spain we got to play against teams from France and Estonia and it was cool to see those cultures.”
Back at A&M, however, Lenz must help her teammates develop their own skills just as she had done at her university and abroad. For that purpose, communication is key.
Guerrieri said Lenz is one of the team’s primary and most significant communicators.
“It’s great to have two of our best leaders right in the heart of our defense while giving us personalities that the team will listen to,” Guerrieri said. “By and large the information is productive. It’s almost never unproductive, whether it’s blatantly stating a fact like ‘You have to do this better’ or a form of encouragement.”
Lenz admits she can make herself known on the pitch.
“It’s lucky because I get to be vocal as a defender,” Lenz said. “I’ve just taken everything in stride. It’s definitely different not having a lot of seniors, but with the girls we have on the team it’s easy. I get to yell pretty much the whole game, but it’s all good things.”
And with one game remaining in the regular season, all eyes will be on Ellis Field as the Aggies take on rival LSU in a conference finale—one with a championship on the line. Texas A&M will be aiming to catch another dose of much-needed momentum before the conference and NCAA post-season. A victory would be helpful in that regard.
Though, with Lenz doing what she does best, her head coach will be worrying about one less issue than he would otherwise – fantastic defense.
“She’s always been a ball hawk, someone who could mark the other team’s best player and take them out of the match,” Guerrieri said. “It’s a 90 minute game, two 45-minute halves without timeouts and there are going to be a lot of occasions for the other team to take chances. But – with someone like Rachel back there – those chances are going to be few and far between.”