With merger, Ocelots’ future unclear - Brownsville Herald: Local

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With merger, Ocelots’ future unclear

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Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 11:30 pm

Although University of Texas at Brownsville officials have not publicly addressed the future of athletics at their school, it appears the next school year quite likely will be the last for Ocelots sports.

When contacted earlier this week, several coaches and other persons with knowledge of the UTB athletic program confirmed the Ocelots definitely will compete again on the NAIA level in volleyball, soccer, cross country and golf in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015. However, after that, when the UTB merger with the University of Texas-Pan American to form UT-Rio Grande Valley is expected to be completed or at least well under way, the new university’s athletics are expected to be based exclusively in Edinburg, the location of UTPA and its NCAA Division I athletic program.

“All we know for now is that we will compete next (school) year,” said Todd Lowery, UTB volleyball coach and athletic director. “Details for the new university athletics are still being worked on like they are in all areas of the new university.”

Chris King, UTPA athletic director, referred questions about the future of UTB athletics as a result of the UTB-UTPA merger to UT System officials.

UTPA is starting a women’s soccer program to begin playing in the fall of 2014 and is bringing back men’s soccer, which is scheduled to begin play in the fall of 2015. Glad Bugariu was hired as the UTPA women’s soccer coach in April of last year, while Paul Leese was announced as the men’s coach for Broncs soccer earlier this month.

UTB men’s soccer coach Dan Balaguero confirmed that he and former UTB women’s soccer coach Nikola “Nik” Barjaktarevic applied for the soccer coaching positions at UTPA.

After Bugariu was hired at UTPA, Barjaktarevic left UTB last August to coach women’s soccer at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He is the first coach for the new women’s soccer program at St. Thomas as the Celts will play their inaugural season in the fall of 2014.

Juan de Dios Garcia, a former longtime coach of the Brownsville Hanna boys team, replaced Barjaktarevic at UTB as interim head coach in 2013 and is an applicant to coach women’s soccer for the Ocelots during the coming season, he said.

Balaguero continues as coach of the UTB men’s soccer team. He and Barjaktarevic started their respective soccer programs at UTB/Texas Southmost College in 2007, and both have won multiple Red River Athletic Conference championships and earned coach of the year honors during their tenures. Both have taken their UTB teams to the NAIA national playoffs as well.

Actually, Balaguero has directed two inaugural athletic programs at UTB as last fall he also coached the school’s first cross country team. In November, the UTB men won the RRAC cross country meet and the women came in second. The men’s team advanced to the NAIA national meet along with four runners from the women’s squad.

Balaguero said his immediate focus is preparing his UTB soccer players and runners for the coming fall season.

“We are just going about business as usual from a soccer standpoint, training hard this spring, and we’re very excited for the fall,” Balaguero said. “We hope to win the conference (again) and get back to the national tournament. We have a fantastic group of players returning with many seasons (of experience). We also have a favorable home schedule, which is exciting for our players and fans.

“More importantly, I want to see all of our seniors graduate and players with eligibility remaining find a quality program to play at after next year,” he added.

Regarding his future as a college soccer coach, Balaguero said, “It’s going to be nice to look back on later in life that I was the one and only head coach here (at UTB). However, the realism of things coming to an end here is sad and scary. Once the season ends in the fall and I get all the players here on track to graduate and transfer, I will worry about myself and begin the next chapter of my career. Where it will be and at what level remains to be seen.”

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