By Jeffrey Swindoll
Baylor soccer forward Precious Akanyirige is tied for the team lead in goals as a true freshman, and has done it all playing a position she had hardly played at all before coming to Baylor.
Listed as a defender earlier in her career, Akanyirige had played as a forward competitively on rare occasions.
Baylor co-head coach Marci Jobson happened to attend one of the few club games that Akanyirige played as a forward, not necessarily aware of Akanyirige’s abilities to play that position.
“She was playing in the back with her team as she always does, and her coach popped her up top for about 10 minutes, and then [the coaching staff] said we were probably going to use her up top,” Jobson said.
Jobson said Akanyirige has natural abilities to play the position. However, adjusting from the high school to college level is a big jump in any sport, especially with having to learn a brand new position.
“I think she’s starting to understand the position better,” Jobson said. “When she first started playing forward, she said, ‘I just don’t really understand the position.’ I said, ‘Just run around and try and shoot and you’ll be fine.’ I keep telling her, ‘Just pretend like you’re the best player on the field.’ So I think she’s just starting to believe that a little bit,” Jobson said.
As a four-star defender in high school, speed was one of Akayirige’s greatest assets and has been all her life. Akanyirige led her high school’s 4×100 relay track team to the California state finals in 2011 and 2013, and was named MVP of her high school’s track team in 2012.
“She’s good at scoring. She’s fast a jet. She’s got to continue to develop a little more endurance up top, being able to run longer. But you know she’s still very good at what she does,” Jobson said.
Akanyirige scored her first collegiate goal against No. 22 Brigham Young University last week. It was a huge goal for the Bears, who went on to upset the Cougars 2-1 that day.
“I’m getting a little bit more comfortable playing a new position,” Akanyirige said. “It’s just great to get experience out on the field being a freshman.”
Since that game, Akanyirige has scored in two straight matches and has become a staple to a Baylor offense that is firing on all cylinders as of late. The Bears have scored 12 goals in its last three games. Akanyirige has been key to the strong effort with her superior speed and physical dominance in the penalty box.
Baylor’s offensive production is predicated on the wing players getting down the flank and crossing the ball into the box for the forward to hammer the ball in from just a few yards out. Baylor’s wingers, including seniors Natalie Huggins and Justine Hovden, have been very successful at getting past defenders on the sideline and providing good service for the forwards. Akanyirige is just now finding her form and the places to be in the box to convert those crosses into goals.
“I keep telling myself that I need to get in front of the goal because there have been so many balls that I’ve missed like that, and I just want to be able to help out my team get there. That’s my job.” Akanyirige said.