Dawn Ward’s second goal against North Texas last weekend in the opening round of the NCAA Championships signified more than a game-clinching strike.
A redshirt senior who scored 13 goals in her rookie season for Texas Tech soccer, Ward has spent the better part of the last three years trying to find that same shooting touch.
While she doesn’t shoot as much or play as many minutes as that stellar freshman season, Ward has revitalized her role on the team in what coach Tom Stone calls a “return to form.”
“It’s always tough when you’re playing all the time and you lose minutes,” said Stone, who has consistently brought in goal-scoring threats that have pushed Ward into a reserve role, “but in the journey that has been Dawn’s career here, if it weren’t for her getting challenged to be better, she wouldn’t be having such a great senior year.”
The journey has brought Tech to the second round of the NCAA Championships with a 6 p.m. clash against No. 1 seeded Florida State on Friday in Tallahassee, Fla.
Ward, of course, doesn’t want her journey to end just yet.
The Midland native is the first to admit she struggled after her freshman season.
The now-senior forward netted 13 goals and started all 20 matches in a stellar rookie campaign, but then went on a two-year struggle to find that same touch.
She had four goals in 2010 and just two in 2011.
While it wasn’t always easy during the stretch, Ward has become the goal-scoring threat she once was, and she’s done it with a whole new team mentality.
“Coming off the success of my freshman year, I expected it to just come to me again like it did then — but it didn’t,” said Ward, who has five goals this season in nearly half the playing time she had three years ago. “I think that my focus changed and it wasn’t where it needed to be. My mentality was not where it needed to be in order to come back from it. That was a journey in itself.”
Ward came to Tech and sat out her true freshman season to recuperate from an offseason injury, then immediately made an impact when she played in her first competitive game. She rifled six shots and scored on one in a 5-0 romp against Texas-San Antonio.
A year later, when talented forward Jessica Fuston arrived, Ward’s scoring touch started to drop off while Fuston replaced Ward as Tech’s top scoring threat.
Another year went by, and Ward continued to struggle to find the back of the net.
“Every player goes through that,” Ward said, “where you’re not playing well or you’re not getting as much playing time as you think you should or you’re not getting any at all. Your automatic response is to feel sorry for yourself and point the finger at someone else.”
While the challenges weren’t easy, Ward said she wouldn’t be where she is today without them.
With her scoring struggles behind her, she is able to relish her journey.
She now understands her role on the team, and takes pride in leading in a different capacity.
Ward also said the whole team understands its role, which has been key to this year’s historical run.
“Everybody has a different role,” Ward said, “and everybody’s been into it 100 percent.”
Ward’s role is still a scoring threat, but Stone said Ward’s quality of goals is what sets her apart.
She scored game-winners against Texas and twice against Kansas, the latter in the Big 12 Conference Championships for Tech’s first win in the conference tourney.
Senior midfielder Tiffini Smith said the team has known all along Ward could return to her scoring ways by pushing through it.
“These last couple of games have definitely been her best of the season,” Smith said. “She’s shown up right when we need her. She scores those crucial goals that you need from a senior. I think her leadership has been awesome through these last couple of games.”
To comment on this story:
@lubbockonline.com • 766-8723
@lubbockonline.com • 766-2166