By Greg DeVries
The No. 25 Baylor women’s soccer team will open conference play tonight in Norman, Okla. as it takes on the Oklahoma Sooners.
The Bears are 8-1-1 on the season, which is the second-best start in program history.
The team has won its last three games and has outscored its opponents 11-1 in that span.
The Bears are also outshooting opponents by more than 18 shots per game.
“There is an inevitable little boost of excitement when [we get] to conference play because it’s what we have been preparing for,” senior midfielder Lisa Sliwinski said. “The level of play steps up when we get to conference.”
The Sooners are 4-4-2 on the season and are coming off of a 3-0 loss to SMU in Dallas.
Oklahoma has earned a victory over rival No. 7 Oklahoma State, so they are still a dangerous team.
“I think they’re an aggressive team,” head coach Marci Jobson said. “They’re good in the air. They have some good weapons as well…they beat Oklahoma State this year, so they have the confidence so they have the confidence to say, ‘Hey, we can stick with the best of the best.’”
The Bears will also have to deal with Oklahoma’s strong home crowd. The Sooner faithful brought nearly 2,500 fans to their first conference game.
Baylor’s defense will have to keep a watchful eye on Sooner Senior Renae Cuellar. Cuellar transferred from Arizona and is leading Oklahoma’s offense with six goals.
Her goals account for half of the team’s total, and she was the one to score OU’s lone goal in its 1-0 victory over Oklahoma State.
Senior forward Dana Larsen has scored six goals of her own this year, including two in the Bears’ last game against Houston Baptist.
The difference between Larsen and Cuellar is that Larsen has more weapons around her then can also put the ball in the back of the net.
“You never know who is going to put one in,” Larsen said. “It’s great for our team to be able to rely on so many options and know that someone is going to come through in the end.”
The Bears will return home Sunday to take on the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks. The Ladyjacks are 6-2-0 on the season.
SFA can be a dangerous offensive team. The Ladyjacks are averaging 3.5 goals per game and have won four of their last five games.
“They’ve had a really good season so far,” Jobson said. “Every year they’re pretty steady. That’s going to be a tough game too for us.”
Two players the Bears should watch out for are Ladyjack senior midfielder Kylie Louw, who has two goals and a team-leading seven assists on the year, and sophomore forward Chelsea Raymond, who leads SFA with six goals.
Home field advantage has been strong for Baylor recently.
The Bears have not lost at home since Oct. 21 of last year against the then-ranked No. 2 team in the country.
Sunday’s kickoff has been moved up one hour to 6 p.m.