Baylor soccer will return to action 8 p.m today for the first time since it dropped its final two matches of the regular season, falling to 11-6-1, 4-3-1 in Big 12 play. The Bears are hoping to make a strong statement for an NCAA tournament berth by making a deep run in the Big 12 tournament at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City, Mo.
“We were pretty bummed the way the season ended. It’s never fun to end on a couple of losses,” sophomore midfielder Julie James said. “You can’t focus on that now. We can only focus on what’s ahead of us and move forward the best we can.”
The Big 12 tournament bridges the gap between the regular season and the NCAA women’s soccer tournament. While some teams look to build their resumes and solidify their spots in the field, others are playing just to receive an invitation to the NCAA women’s soccer tournament.
“You always talk about having two seasons. You have your regular season, and you have your postseason. We look back and feel that we had a really good season. We didn’t end the way we wanted to, but if you look at it as a whole, it’s a really good season,” said head coach Paul Jobson. “Eleven wins, finished third in the conference, a really good conference; I think it’s been a pretty good season. Going into postseason, its another opportunity, and because of that opportunity in front of us, there’s a little bit more fire in our bellies. We have to win to keep playing.”
Baylor’s regular season schedule ended a week earlier than most teams in the Big 12, which provided a rare week for the team to rest and refocus on fundamentals before heading into the conference tournament.
“We spent those days focused on ourselves, getting sharp and getting healthy,” Jobson said. “I think we put ourselves in a pretty good spot heading into Kansas City.”
The bye week also provided Baylor with a new challenge as the Bears prepared most of the week without knowing their first round opponent.
“The girls trained so well this week. I’ve been really impressed with their mentality and their focus,” Jobson said. “We haven’t known our opponent up until Friday, so we’ve been training Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday not knowing our opponent.”
The first opponent up for the third-seeded Bears will be the sixth-seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys. Baylor won the matchup during the regular season, a 2-1 overtime win in Stillwater, Okla. Junior midfielder Aline De Lima scored the winning goal for the Bears in the 96th minute.
Although Baylor has already defeated Oklahoma State this season, it expects to see a much improved, hungry team.
“As you go through the season, everyone is getting better. Our conference is so tough, and these games can go either way at any time,” Jobson said. “They’re a quality team with some great results too. It’s going to be quite a battle for sure.”
Elsewhere in the bracket, the regular season conference champ and No. 1 ranked team in the country, the West Virginia Mountaineers will take on the eighth-seeded Red Raiders of Texas Tech. The Red Raiders upset the Mountaineers, in a second round tournament game last year on their way to the Big 12 crown.
The fourth-seeded Oklahoma Sooners will take on the fifth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones. Oklahoma won the matchup during the regular season, 3-0, in Ames, Iowa.
The Sooners finished with the same conference record as Baylor but lost the head-to-head matchup at 2-1, giving the Bears the tiebreaker and the higher seed.
Completing the bracket and taking on the winner of Baylor and Oklahoma State is the second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks and the seventh-seeded Texas Christian University Horned Frogs. The Jayhawks won the previous matchup on Sept. 30.
Due to their record and their scoring differential, the Mountaineers will be the heavy favorites to win the Big 12 tournament, and rightfully so, as the Mountaineers won their fifth consecutive regular season Big 12 title. The Mountaineers were also best in the conference defensively, shutting out all seven of their conference foes.
Regardless of the opponent, Baylor is taking the mindset of one match at a time.
“We’re going in, and we’re going to take it one game at a time, and we’re going in there to win it,” James said. “That’s our mindset going in. We can’t focus too much on the past.”