The University of Houston will chart a new path beginning next fall with the advent of women's soccer.
The last time UH had this type of intercollegiate program opening was 30 years ago when tennis was initiated into Cougar athletics.
The team will begin play in NCAA Division I and will be aligned in Conference USA. Thus far the team, coached by former Challenge Club soccer coach Chris Huston, has signed 12 players; all are from Texas. The remaining players will be comprised of walk-ons.
All scholarship recipients have played club soccer, and seven of them are from the Challenge Club soccer program. In local soccer, the best players play club soccer and might play high school varsity soccer.
Some of the players were highly touted and heavily recruited. Jennifer Allen, a versatile 5-10 player who can play forward or midfield, is out of LaPorte and played with the Challenge Club.
State soccer power and Kingwood midfielder Kara Bullinger, who also played with Challenge, is joining the Cougars.
Juli Murphy out of Tyler, Texas, is a 5-5 defender who played with the Dallas Sting. She will be one of six players in the defensive unit.
Huston was forced to recruit players to a program which is brand new.
"For the past couple of months there has been nothing I could say about Cougar soccer," Huston said. "I was named coach, but I didn't have any players, a schedule, equipment, uniforms or anything. It was ground zero.
"I had to recruit players who could see the bigger picture, even though I could not say much about the program in my first couple weeks on the job. Now we have a team, and in fact, we're the only NCAA Division I team in the city."
Now the Cougars are ready for action. They will play all eight of their home games at Robertson Stadium.
One of those is against Texas, which is usually one of the nation's top teams. The opener is August 29 at home against Oregon.
The Cougars will play 19 games in the regular season, with the Conference USA tournament following.
They will play all 11 C-USA soccer teams. Southern Mississippi does not have a team.
Since the team is brand new, it will have some growing pains. The opponents that UH will face have been competing in college soccer for years while this will be the first for all of the players at UH.
Huston understands this but is looking forward to opening day.
"I'm really proud of this first class," she said. "They really understand that it will take some time to grow.
"They also understand that UH athletics has a winning tradition in all sports, and that we intend for Cougar soccer to follow suit."