By Daniel Wallace
Baylor athletics will compete against Texas A&M tonight for the first time since the conference realignment soap opera began last week.
The soccer team will kickoff the 2011-12 rivalry against the Aggies at 6:30 p.m. today in College Station.
The team expects to play in a hostile environment, because of the stance Baylor has taken against Texas A&M’s pursuit of official acceptance into the SEC.
“There’s 11 people on each team out on the field and they have to focus on that,” head coach Marci Jobson said. “They can’t be distracted by harassing comments and loud people. It’s not easy to do; my kids will have never faced this type of environment probably.”
Junior midfielder Hanna Gilmore has faced the Aggies on their home turf before and recalled last year’s experience. She said last year the team listened to the Aggie fight song every day that week of practice leading up to the game to better prepare for the noise and fierce environment College Station is known for. Gilmore anticipates the environment to be a little more tense than normal, but has a plan for dealing with it.
“There’s going to be a ton of energy, so it just depends on how you channel that energy,” she said. “We can just pretend like they are cheering for us.”
Freshman forward Natalie Huggins said that it is unnecessary for the team to spend time focusing on the distractions around the game and the potentially harsh environment.
“What we focus on is our game and how we play,” she said. “We keep it in the back of our minds, but other than that, we don’t pay much attention to it.”
Baylor (6-1-1) comes into the matchup with a better record than the Aggies (4-4-0), but Texas A&M is coming off an upset victory over No. 1 ranked University of North Carolina on Saturday. In the final 20 minutes of regulation in that game, the Aggies scored two goals to force overtime, where they eventually won, 4-3, on a goal by freshman forward Shea Groom.
The Bears know A&M will provide a huge challenge for them but are confident they can compete.
“I don’t know if it’s like the culture of A&M itself; it’s like a cult and it’s just weird and it just makes them weirdly good,” Gilmore said. “Comparing athlete to athlete we obviously can compete with them. On any given day, we can definitely beat them.”
Jobson has been preaching focus and playing a full 90 minutes all season and believes that is the key to coming out of College Station with a victory.
“I love being an underdog,” she said. “I’m not afraid to play them; I think it’s exciting to measure up and go after this win. We can win this game if we play focused and play competitive for 90 minutes.”
She added that if the team only plays, for example, 75 minutes of good soccer, a good team like Texas A&M will make you pay. She said the Bears’ defense is strong and the offense has great depth in attacking the goal, and thus is excited to see if the team can pull out a victory.
Tonight’s game is not the only game for the Bears this weekend. They return home to face Utah Valley at 1 p.m. Sunday at Betty Lou Mays Field.
The Wolverines (3-4-0) will face Fordham this afternoon in College Station before coming to Waco for Sunday’s match-up. Utah Valley is coming off a weekend sweep against Idaho and Montana with 1-0 and 2-1 victories, respectively. Haley Curtis leads the Wolverines with three goals this season.