By Parmida Schahhosseini
The only thing standing in the way of a Big 12 Conference Final appearance is a game against regular season champions No. 1 seed West Virginia in the semi-finals of the Big 12 Tournament. The game will take place at 5:30 p.m. today at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City.
No. 5 seed Baylor is riding a three-game winning streak and hopes to carry this momentum to take down the Big 12 powerhouse, but defeating West Virginia is no small feat.
“[West Virginia] is a great team with some great weapons,” said Baylor co-head coach Marci Jobson.
The stakes are high for the Bears as they go up against one of the most potent offenses in the nation. The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, senior forward Frances Silva, leads the Big 12 with 14 goals and 13 assists, but she’s not the only threat on offense. Senior forward Kate Schwindel has added extra production with her 11 goals and six assists. The Mountaineers have scored 45 goals while giving up 23.
If Baylor can play assignment soccer and stay tight on defense, it has a shot to pull away with a win. However, Baylor will have to take advantage of West Virginia’s defense, which has been suspect at some points. Compared to the rest of the Big 12, West Virginia’s defense is middle of the pack with 23 goals allowed. The Mountaineers have a bright spot with Big 12 Defender and Newcomer of the Year Kadeisha Buchanan, who has given the backline much needed toughness with her physical play.
The Bears will have to put forth one of their best performances of the season because the Mountaineers can strike at any minute. Baylor will have to score to stay in this game because as good as the Baylor defense is, West Virginia averages 2.37 goals per game.
“Every game you go into, any team can really beat any team,” sophomore forward Bri Campos said. “We have to go into each game with the same mentality. We have to have the same mentality and play just as hard for each game.”
Baylor’s defense ranks among the top in the Big 12 and has forced three consecutive shutouts. The Bears have only allowed 12 goals for a .065 shot percentage. Baylor ranks second in the Big 12 in goals allowed and goals against average in addition to being second in the conference with 13 shutouts.
When the defense plays aggressive and physical soccer, the offense begins to feed off of the production, leading to scores. Freshman midfielder Ashley York has added some much-needed production as she and Bri Campos lead the Bears with six goals apiece. After a goal drought, York has scored twice in the last three games as she and Bri Campos form a dynamic duo to give Baylor a lift. York also leads the Bears with three game winners. West Virginia will be sure to limit York’s production by limiting her touches.
“There’s nothing like waiting to see what other teams do in conference play, so at this point, our plan is to control our own destiny and take care of what we can take care of,” West Virginia head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said.
Junior goalkeeper Michelle Kloss ranks second in the Big 12 with a .63 goals against average and 11 shutouts to her credit. Kloss will have to limit any mental mistakes because timing will be key if the Mountaineers get a breakaway ball.
It will be the battle of which side of the ball can overcome the other. While Baylor has an advantage defensively, West Virginia has the upper hand on offense. The key to winning the match will come down to whichever team can control the midfield. Baylor must possess the ball because limiting West Virginia’s offensive possessions can halt the goal scoring.
The last time these two teams matched up, West Virginia broke Baylor’s 31-game unbeaten streak with a 4-3 victory on Sept. 29.
The Mountaineers started the game aggressive, jumping out to a 3-0 lead after first half goals by Schwindel and sophomore forward Kelsie Maloney. Senior midfielder Larissa Campos had an opportunity to tie the game at one, but missed a critical penalty shot, which ended up being the difference in the game.
After being down two at the half, West Virginia came out aggressive, leading to Buchanan’s goal putting Baylor in its largest deficit of the season. Despite the adversity, the Bears pushed through and almost brewed a comeback. Freshman defender Lindsay Burns’ scored the first goal of the game propelling the Bears to rally around the team and continues to fight. Bri Campos scored a goal eight minutes later, but sophomore defender Cari Prince ended up scoring the game winner. Senior defender Taylor Heatherly scored a goal in the remaining nine seconds, but it was too late.
Baylor’s rally should give the Bears confident going into this game.