The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns soccer team could well be on the cusp of a breakout season. Through a brutal late-August heat wave, the Cajuns strung together three consecutive wins featuring no goals allowed by the opponent, a feat not accomplished by the team since their 2020 season.
The start of their campaign on Aug. 17 featured an away matchup against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, which ended in a 1–1 draw after a 58’ goal by Campbell Kivisto equalized an earlier effort by Sisley Stephens. Junior goalkeeper Makenna Garcia got her first-ever start for the Cajuns and looked the part in the first half, recording a save on a shot heaved a quarter up the pitch with real power behind it.
Next was the home opener on Aug. 20 against the University of South Florida Bulls. At 1 p.m., with the temperature topping out at 102 degrees on the day, Garcia and the rest of the Cajuns defense put on a clinic.
They proceeded to turn 14 Bulls shots and two would-be goals into a squeaky-clean 2–0 victory on the scorecard. The first save, a point-blank free kick that managed to slip past the wall, necessitated a dive to the right corner by Garcia and a quick recovery to the ball, as a hustling Bulls player very nearly got an uncontested chance at a volley. The second save, another powerful shot right at Garcia from near the left corner of the box, looked easy by comparison.
Two Cajuns international transfers, midfielder Emma Bates and forward Megan Bradley, made the difference offensively, converting their chances in the 38th and 83rd minutes respectively.
Four days later and three hours north of Lafayette, the Cajuns were fortunate enough to play the Grambling State Tigers in the evening of another 100 degree-high day, as Garcia and her back line would again record two saves and again put up a clean sheet, 3–0. Three freshmen, Sophie Placke, Anneliese Switzer and Bailey Giddings, scored in the 51st, 61st and 72nd minutes of the match.
As if those conditions were not grueling enough, Aug. 27 would ring in a 108 degrees, record-high-matching day in Nacogdoches, TX for the Cajuns’ morning match against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Glancing at the final draw of this 1–0 for the Cajuns, it wouldn’t look like this game had the offensive fireworks of the prior week, but if you were watching you were in for something special.
28 total shots by the home team, nine on goal and nine Makenna Garcia saves. Head Coach Chris McBride did not shy away from giving Garcia her flowers in the next day’s press conference: “She’s a rockstar, she’s been a rockstar since she came here in the spring, I think that she’s been a big boost of confidence for the whole team. I think to have someone in the goal that you can rely on and is as athletic as she is [boosts confidence].”
“Her shot-stopping is second to none, her reaction saves are incredible,” McBride continued. “Her confidence to come off her line and her ability with her feet, everything you’re looking for in a goalkeeper.”
When asked what he felt was the biggest improvement of the team as a whole, McBride said, “The grittiness. I don’t think last year we’d win that game 1–0. I think we lose that game… I think the grittiness of the team, to be able to figure out a way to win is what the biggest jump is right now.”
“They’re playing with each other, for each other, and it’s really helping us finish out games.” Even after a 1–2 loss to FAU and a 2–2 draw with FIU in Miami, the squad bounced back in a major way on Sept. 7 against Alcorn State, racking up five goals to none before the game was abandoned due to lightning midway through the second half.
McBride said of the results so far: “We’re hoping this will be a well-oiled machine by the time we hit conference. We are extremely proud of where we are now in comparison to last year. We still know we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Cajuns will look to prove themselves when conference play starts Sept. 17 against the Texas State Bobcats in San Marco, Texas.