By Parmida Schahhosseini
Coming into this year, hopes were high for the Bears after last year’s success, but those dreams came crashing down on Monday when the Bears found out their season ended after not being selected to the NCAA Tournament as a bubble team.
After starting the season ranked No. 10, Baylor began to climb steadily only to go into a free-fall during a six game winless streak. After a three game winning streak, Baylor’s last hope was to win the Big 12 Tournament, but No. 1 seed West Virginia shattered any hope Baylor had with a 1-0 win Friday night at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City, Mo., in the Big 12 Championship Semifinals.
“We had them on their heels, but that’s soccer,” Baylor co-head coach Marci Jobson said. “They have one of the best free kick takers in the country. We knew it was going to be tough when we fouled her inside the 18-yard box. I couldn’t be more proud, couldn’t ask for anything more from our girls. They really come on the last few weeks of the season and really have been playing well.”
The Bears played well against the Mountaineers, but when playing West Virginia the margin for error is small. The game was scoreless until a costly Baylor foul just outside the box in the 51st minute led to senior forward Frances Silva to connect on a free kick. The goal accounted for the Offensive Player of the Year’s 15th goal this season and her third in the Big 12 Tournament.
Baylor had a golden opportunity at the end of the game to score an equalizer with under 10 seconds as sophomore forward Bri Campos was awarded a free kick. With the clock ticking, the shot went over West Virginia’s defensive wall but a diving senior goalkeeper Sara Keane made the critical save to seal the victory.
“What I ask the team to do is for everyone to do their job.” West Virginia head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. “Our backs were doing exactly what they’re capable of doing and they really stepped up. Keane has done a great job for us all year and just stepped up as a senior leader.”
After giving up a combined seven goals in their last meeting during the regular season, both defenses played better allowing only one goal between the teams. Baylor and West Virginia both took 14 shots, but the Mountaineers had five shots on goal compared to Baylor’s two. Junior goalkeeper Michelle Kloss made critical back-to-back saves in the 23rd minute as she tipped one ball off the cross bar and caught a shot off of Silva’s rebound.
Both teams had plenty of chances to score, exchanging shots early in the first half, but both came up empty-handed. Bri Campos was the only player on Baylor’s squad to have a shot on goal. Senior midfielder Kat Ludlow missed a shot wide right after a scrum inside the box three minutes before the half.
As a tactical strategy, freshman goalkeeper Sara Martinson replaced Kloss in the 80th minute, but Baylor couldn’t overcome the one goal deficit.
It was an up and down season for the Bears, but Baylor was able to respond leading to the No. 5 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. The team stayed together attesting to its locker room and mental toughness.
“It’s definitely been an emotional rollercoaster,” Ludlow said. “It’s been a win-loss rollercoaster. It’s been every type of rollercoaster, but we came together and understood that God takes you really south to go north, so we believe it’s part of a bigger purpose and that all this is just preparing us for something greater.”
Baylor hopes to have better luck next season, and the Bears are returning some key pieces. Campos and freshman midfielder Ashley York will be back along with freshman defender Lindsay Burns, who has shown growth this season.
Despite losing leaders such as Ludlow and senior defender Taylor Heatherly, the Bears are brining back veterans such as junior forwards Natalie Huggins and Justine Hovden.