National saves leader: Cobbs wants to return UAPB to glory

Arkansas-Pine Bluff junior Alyssa Cobbs has improved in numerous physical ways since becoming the team’s fulltime goalkeeper last season, but her biggest improvement has been a mental one.

“Last season, I would tend to second-guess myself,” Cobbs said. “So, I think just being more confident has been my biggest improvement.

“And because of that I’ve made better decisions.”

Lady Lions head coach Rohan Naraine has noticed the increased confidence as well. It’s led to her leading the NCAA in total saves this season with 104 and being named SWAC Goalkeeper of the Week last Monday.

“She’s definitely more confident,” he said. “Last year, since it was her first time playing goalie she didn’t really know what to expect.

“She’s always been able to make the really hard saves, but sometimes she struggled with the easy ones.

“She’s gotten better, though, with her positioning, her work in the air and, especially, her work on crosses.”

Cobbs’ second season between the pipes will reach its halfway point Tuesday when UAPB (1-8) takes on Central Baptist College (3-5) at 5 p.m. at Pumphrey Stadium.

The match will be UAPB’s final game before conference play starts Oct. 4 at Grambling State.

“I think a win against them will help build our confidence,” Cobbs said. “It would be huge going into conference play on a positive note.

“It will be a real test for us to see whether we’re ready for conference play.”

Her coach thinks tomorrow’s game will be important, too.

“I think it’s a huge pressure game for them,” Naraine said. “We need to come out and put the ball away.”

Not being able to finish chances came back to haunt the Lady Lions in last season’s meeting, which the Lady Mustangs won 3-0.

“They beat us last year,” Naraine said, “but I thought we outplayed them.

“We just didn’t finish our chances and they did in both halves.”

Last season, Naraine’s first with UAPB, the Lady Lions reached the semifinals of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament before falling to Mississippi Valley State 9-8 on penalty kicks.

For a program that had won SWAC tournament titles in two of the three previous seasons (2009 and 2011), last year’s ending was a tough pill to swallow.

“It was a heartbreaker,” Naraine said. “I mean, we were one penalty kick away from the finals. …

“Hopefully, the girls that experienced that will be a bit hungry this year.”

Cobbs was a freshman when UAPB won the 2011 SWAC title, but didn’t get to play in any significant games.

Three games into the season she tore the meniscus in her right knee and was forced to sit out the remainder of the season.

It was the same knee she had to have surgery on her sophomore year of high school when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament.

She for one thinks the loss to MVSU will be a motivator for her team when conference play begins.

“A lot of girls are here that were on the team last year,” she said. “I think losing in the semifinals was really an eye-opener for us.

“This season we have players we didn’t have last year that will help us.

“If we play well, I think the only people that can beat us is us.”

NCAA women’s soccer total saves leaders

(As of Monday)

1. Alyssa Cobbs, UAPB, 104

2. Marissa Oehler, Alabama A&M, 99

3. Sarah Wood, Cleveland State, 78

4. Kylee Hathaway, Alabama State, 73

5. Kristi Hestdalen, North Dakota, 69