By Jeffrey Swindoll
Baylor soccer kicks off Big 12 day with two matches in three days this weekend against conference title contender No. 18 Kansas at 7 p.m. tonight and Big 12 dark horse Iowa State at 1 p.m. Sunday, both at Betty Lou Mays Field.
“I’m excited about starting conference,” Baylor co-head coach Marci Jobson said. “Every game is just an exciting game, and it’s kind of a new season. It doesn’t matter who’s won eight games in a row or who’s lost eight games. The Big 12; it is a battle every game you play in.”
It’s been a roller coaster 10 games so far for the Bears (6-3-1), but they reached significant high marks reached in the pre-conference campaign.
Baylor boasts an even attack on offense. Midfielders Ashley York and Bri Campos are tied atop the goals lead with 4 goals apiece. The forwards are crucial to the attack for the Bears. The two senior forwards, Justine Hovden and Natalie consistently provide runs down the flank with the ball, giving Baylor a great chance of scoring with their steady supply of crosses and ability to get past their defenders. Hovden has the team lead with two assists this season and Huggins is tied for second with two assists.
“I think the BYUs and Notre Dames kind of tested our hearts,” Campos said. “Those games showed us that we can play with some of the top teams. That gives us a little bit of confidence going into conference.”
The quartet of Huggins, Hovden, Campos and York has been the heart and soul of Baylor’s offense, each adding noted as well as unnoted impact to every game.
“When you score a lot, you’re feeling confident, you start shooting more, you start making more opportunities for yourself and for your teammates,” York said. “You’ve got to take it one game at a time though. I feel really good where the team is. There are some good teams in the conference this year, and I think that’s great for us.”
On the brink of conference play beginning tonight, Baylor has struggled in Big 12 openers in the program’s 18-year history, going 3-9-3 all-time and 1-4-1 under current head coaches Marci and Paul Jobson. However, the Bears’ home record in Big 12 openers under the Jobsons is 3-2-1.
Home turf has not necessarily favored the Bears over the years in Big 12 openers, but the Bears have yet to lose at Betty Lou Mays Field this season (4-0-1). In fact, the Bears have not conceded a goal at home since October 2013, which spans eight games and nearly 700 minutes of match time.
Betty Lou Mays Field has been an absolute fortress for the Bears. It’s been difficult for any team to come and get a good result. The Bears have dominated, outshooting the opposition 105-12, only allowing 6 shots on goal and conceding only 15 corner kicks in five matches. On top of that, senior goalkeeper Michelle Kloss averages 0.74 goals conceded in 2014.
The Bears face two opponents this weekend unlike any others they had to face at home in 2014.
Against Kansas (9-1), now mainstay in the nation’s top-25 women’s soccer teams, Baylor will have its hands full. The Jayhawks come to Waco on their most successful start to a season in 10 years.
Kansas had no trouble scoring in the first 10 matches, amassing a plus-18 goal differential. Their defense has done well too, only allowing one goal in the last 462 minutes of play and only 5 goals in the 2014 season. The Bears will have to look out for KU’s junior midfielder Liana Salazar, who leads her team with 7 goals on the season.
Iowa State has a goal-scoring machine of its own too. The Cyclones have the league’s top-scorer – sophomore forward Koree Walker with 8 goals this season. In terms of goals scored by Iowa State players, there is a substantial drop-off from Walker’s league-leading tally. Only two players have notched more than one goal for the Cyclones this season other than Walker.
Looking at the goal count, as well as other offensive statistical categories, the Bears can pinpoint ISU’s key player easily.
Baylor’s coaching staff has said they have respect for just about any team, especially after some of the results that the Bears have been a part of on both ends. Kansas and Iowa State will present a serious, but certainly an accomplishable challenge for the Bears this weekend.