A late summer decision by a young Aledo High School graduate in 2009 has made a big impact on the Sam Houston women's soccer program.

Three years later senior midfielder Kirby Zak is happy she made that choice.

"My senior year I had committed to a college in Louisiana but didn't really want to go there," Zak said. "At the last minute, I visited Sam Houston, liked the coaches and the school and came here to play. It's worked out great."

Zak is one of seven seniors on a Bearkat soccer team that will start the 2012 season with three consecutive home games. The Kats play host to Prairie View A&M Friday (Aug. 17), Texas State Sunday (Aug. 19) and North Texas Friday (Aug. 24).

The group is one of the largest senior classes in the program's 10-year history and the fifth-year head coach believes the seven players will provide his team outstanding leadership.

"This is a quality group of young women and they all believe this can be our year," Brown said. "We've reached the semifinals of the Southland Conference tournament two of their three seasons here and they are ready to push all the way through this fall."

Zak joins Hillary Ackerman, Kayla Anderson, Amanda Biega, Michelle McCullough, Paige Rodriquez and Hailey Shelpuk on the role call of seniors on the 2012 team.

"This is our last year together and we're very close," Zak said. "It's exciting and bitter sweet at the same time. We're determined to give everything we have to help this team be successful."

Zak starts her senior season ranked No. 5 in SHSU career goals (17) and holds school mark for career assists (16). She has played 4,942 minutes in 63 games during her career. She has earned All-Southland Conference recognition each of her three years as a Bearkat.

Sam Houston has been predicted to finish fourth in the 2012 Southland Conference women's soccer race but Zak believes the Kats can do better.

"UTSA and Texas State, two of the really dominate teams in the past in our league are gone," Zak said. "Stephen F. Austin returns as the conference champion and we're really looking forward to that match. It's always a battle."

Brown points to Zak's versatility as one of her top assets.

"Kirby has played multiple spots for us in the midfield and up front," Brown said. "She is good at exploiting our opponent's weaknesses, so we like to move her around. She has been a three-time all-conference player for us, so I am expecting a senior season."

Zak made an immediate impact on the Bearkat program, setting a school record for most goals as by a freshman with nine in 2009. While she has posted two hat tricks (three goals in one game) and four game-winning goals including a last second bomb from outside the box for a victory over North Texas in 2010, Zak says her most exciting moments yet at Sam Houston have come in post-season tournament action.

"The Southland Conference tournament every year has been intense and exciting," Zak said. "Everybody is so hyped up and the matches have been so close."

In both her freshman season in 2009 and last year in 2011, the Bearkats pulled off upsets to earn a spot in the conference semifinals.

The Bearkats knocked off UTSA 3-2 in overtime in the first round in Natchitoches, La., in 2009 with Zak assisting on the winning goal with less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime.

Last October, Sam Houston again upset a higher seed with a 1-0 win over Lamar. The Bearkats went all the way to a penalty kick shootout in a scoreless draw before falling to Texas State in the semifinals.

Coming so close twice has made the coming season even more important to the Kats' solid group of senior players.

"It's cool to have a whole group of us who stayed together through the last three seasons," Zak said. "We're excited about starting our final season together."