By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
Baylor soccer will face its biggest test of the season at 7 p.m. Friday at Betty Lou Mays field as No. 5 West Virginia comes to town for the Big 12 conference opener.
The Bears (6-1-1) are coming off of a 4-1 road win against SMU on Sunday and will need to maintain that momentum if they want to take down the national runner-up Mountaineers (7-2-0).
Senior midfielder Aline De Lima, who ranks second on the team with six points (two goals, two assists) on the season, said the Bears are not changing their preparation in advance of the West Virginia game.
“No matter what team, we’re going to prepare the same way,” De Lima said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time. It’s conference, so we need to step up and be the best we can be. West Virginia is a great team, a really technical team, but we’re going to play our way and we’re going to be the best version we can be.”
As Baylor enters Big 12 play, it is in a much better position to make the NCAA Tournament than this time last year.
Baylor is currently No. 40 in the Rating Percentage Index, or RPI, a system the NCAA Tournament Committee uses to measure the strength of teams when setting the tournament field.
Head coach Paul Jobson said the current ranking is indicative of the tough non-conference schedule the Bears played, but feels as though it could be even better.
“I look back at my journal notes from this time last year and we were at 150,” Jobson said. “So I feel really good saying that but you look back at the one blemish against Washington. Coming out of that game we realized we probably could have beaten them as well.”
In the 2015 season, the Bears struggled in the non-conference, going 5-5-2 before going 4-1-2 in conference play to finish second in the Big 12 behind West Virginia.
Results like this, Jobson said, show that conference play is a whole new season, so Baylor can’t afford to let up.
“Being 6-1-1 right now doesn’t mean anything,” Jobson said. “Forty RPI is great and gives us great momentum, but when conference starts everything is out the window and it starts all over again.”
In last season’s meeting between the two teams, the Mountaineers dominated, outshooting the Bears 20-4 en route to a 2-0 victory in Morgantown, W.Va.
Jobson said that West Virginia team is the best he’s ever seen.
“We were their conference opener up there last year,” Jobson said. “I think I’ve said it a million times: I’ve never seen a team that good. Every pass was on, every contact was on, they were as on as you can be.”
West Virginia had one of the toughest non-conference schedules of any team in the country this year, facing five ranked opponents, four of which were in the top 10.
The Mountaineers defeated No. 5 Georgetown, No.1 Penn State and No. 14 Princeton, but lost to No. 10 Virginia and No. 6 Duke.
Jobson said that despite losing a couple of their best players from last year, this West Virginia team is still dangerously good.
“They’ve got some world class players on that team,” Jobson said. “They’re not that far off from where they were last year. They’re a fantastic team, but I know we’re up for the challenge and I know we usually play them pretty well.”
The Mountaineers are led on offense by senior forward Michaela Abam and junior forward Sh’Nia Gordon who lead the team with eight and seven points, respectively.
Abam has three goals, all game-winners, on the season while Gordon is first on the team with three assists.
West Virginia makes its presence felt early in the game as the Mountaineers have outscored their opponents 8 to 2 in the first half and outshooting their opponents 85-31 in the first half as well.
The Bears will look to De Lima and junior forward Jackie Crowther to provide offense. Crowther leads the team with seven points, including three goals and two game-winners, on the season.
Jobson said the girls are ready to go because they have had this game circled on their calendar for a long time.
“The excitement of the home opener in conference is a big deal and now we get to have that here,” Jobson said. “I know this isn’t game where I have to come up with some way to pump my team up. They’ll do it themselves.”
Baylor is 4-0 this season Betty Lou Mays Field and all four victories have been shutouts.
The Bears will face Iowa State at 1 p.m. Sunday in Waco following the showdown with West Virginia.