LUBBOCK As much as playing two seasons with the Texas Tech women’s soccer program has meant to Paige Strahan — not to mention what she hopes the next two will bring — an offseason experience to kick off this summer may end up being Strahan’s fondest memory of her time in Lubbock.
It came many miles away, though, from Texas Tech’s John Walker Soccer Complex where Strahan earned All-Big 12 honors last season and her nearby hometown of Odessa.
Strahan was one of five women’s soccer players and about 20 Texas Tech athletes total who traveled in May to Bukeleba, Uganda, for a mission trip through Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Arise Africa International.
“It was such an amazing experience, spiritually and emotionally,” Strahan said of the trip, which took place between May 20-June 1. “It definitely brought us back with a different aspect on life. It’s awesome to be able to experience that with my teammates because they’re who I’m with all the time. It’s easy for us to look at each other, and we can get on that deeper level of conversation. It’s definitely made us closer.”
Strahan was joined on the journey by 2013 Red Raiders teammates Conner Williams, Hayley Haagsma and Mallory Yacullo along with athletes from Texas Tech’s tennis, volleyball and women’s basketball programs.
An 11-day stay in the camp taught Strahan that common staples of her daily life like electricity and running water weren’t necessary to smile.
“I’m just more conscientious of many different things, just how fortunate we are,” Strahan said. “And we have more than them material-wise, but they have so much joy. That’s what I think I’ve been searching for is finding that deeper joy in God and really in life and not in material things.”
There was ample time to teach and play the sports that the Texas Tech athletes play in Lubbock.
Strahan also said her eyes were opened when the soccer players’ daily workouts were shared with the villagers in Bukeleba.
“Sometimes we dread running,” Strahan said. “And we were running around the camp site and it was so cool — the little village kids would just jump in and run with us. They had so much fun, they did (abdominal workouts) with us. They enjoyed so much of it, so it made me appreciate things I almost used to dread doing.”
Strahan, a 2011 Permian High School graduate, definitely appreciates what she and her teammates have built in Lubbock, too.
The Red Raiders made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history last season — a program that began in 1994 — and beat North Texas in the first round before falling at heavily favored Florida State 3-2 in double overtime.
Texas Tech was selected second in the preseason Big 12 poll that was released Friday, so expectations are for more good things.
“I think the key is, just looking around player to player, the talent level is very high and therefore the competition for positions is really high,” said Texas Tech head coach Tom Stone, who is going into his seventh season. “Whenever you’ve got people fighting to play, they’re going to push each other to new heights and that’s what you’re going to see.”
Stone considers Strahan to be a major part of the equation after her breakout sophomore season when she scored eight goals, ranking second on the team. Five of those goals were game-winners, which tied for the team’s lead.
Strahan plays attacking midfield for the Red Raiders, and Stone said one growth area for the Permian graduate will be maintaining her scoring pace while helping create for an offense that includes standout sophomore forward Janine Beckie.
“Paige is one of the great stories of this program, and not just a great player but a great woman, young lady,” Stone said. “She represents us off the field in the classroom, and she’s kind of somebody you want to point to as the prototypical Texas Tech student-athlete. She looks like she’s ready to go.”
Texas Tech’s season beings Aug. 23 at New Mexico in Albuquerque before the home opener at 1 p.m. Aug. 25 against Colorado State.
The Red Raiders play five consecutive home games in early September as they hope to get off to a fast start.
“Soccer is having fun to me and a skill God has blessed me with so I really am trying not to over-think it,” Strahan said. “I want to come out and play for my team and play in a way I have fun. Whatever may come, may come.”