By Jeffrey Swindoll
After salvaging a win in Norman, Okla., on Sunday, it became clear that the Bears are not going down without a fight. With only three conference games remaining in the season, Baylor soccer plays in two pivotal Big 12 matches this weekend.
Baylor travels to Lubbock to face the Red Raiders at 7 p.m. today, and return home to face Texas at 6 p.m. on Sunday at Betty Lou Mays Field in Waco.
The Red Raiders currently sit in a three-way tie with Baylor and Oklahoma. Texas is right on the Bears’ trail just one point behind in the conference standings. With two wins this weekend, the Bears could see themselves firmly take hold of a spot in the top four of the league.
“To be able to get a win on the road [in Norman] I think definitely gives us momentum and excitement going into another road weekend,” Baylor co-head coach Paul Jobson said. “Friday in Lubbock is going to be a tough test as well.”
The end of the season looms for Baylor soccer, and opportunities to improve their NCAA Tournament resume ahead of the Big 12 tournament are slowly fading away as well. The conference has a core group of quality teams this year. Teams like West Virginia and Kansas have led the way for the conference, playing consistently well in the Big 12 and representing the conference in the national rankings on a weekly basis. This weekend is an opportunity for the Bears to make a case to be in that top-end group in the final stretch of the season, Jobson said.
“We’ve got three matches left, two weeks left in the regular season, and we’re going one game at a time,” Jobson said. “These next three games are important. We’re playing for seeding for the Big 12 tournament. Our conference is so tough this year, it’s really all up in the air who finished where.”
Baylor at No. 12 Texas Tech – 7 p.m. today
The Red Raiders started their season with a perfect 10-0 record before Big 12 conference play – the only team in conference to do so in 2014. Texas Tech struggled to keep its winning rhythm going against Big 12 schools, however. The Red Raiders have stumbled through the Big 12 with a 2-3-1 record, but are on a two-match win streak after a 1-0 victory over No. 9 Kansas and TCU last week.
“Texas Tech on the road is always a tough match,” Jobson said. “They have a great environment, great fans, and they’re knowledgeable about the game. I think they have the second best attendance rate in the conference. [Baylor co-head coach Marci Jobson] and I go way back with their head coach, so there’s a lot of respect from a coach’s standpoint.”
Texas Tech forward senior Janine Beckie was an All-Big 12 Preseason Poll first team pick and started Big 12 play as the top scorer in pre-conference games. Beckie fell off the radar in her first six Big 12 matches though, averaging only 0.33 goals in that span.
“It’s definitely an emotional and passionate game, I would say, even more so than others,” senior midfielder Alexa Wilde said. “I think both teams, especially for us, we really enjoy that type of game too. It’s very intense, people are on the edge, and it’s always a close, well-fought, scrappy match. Every time they come here, or we go there, it’s always an exciting game.”
The Bears and the Red Raiders share a mutual respect and a healthy rivalry in Big 12 soccer, Wilde said. Many of the players from both sides have past experience from club soccer or high school together, which adds to the rivalry dynamic, Wilde said.
Texas Tech has the most shots in the Big 12 this season, and the Bears have one of the best shots-allowed records this season. Tonight’s match looks to be a clash between Texas Tech’s trigger-happy offense and Baylor’s lockdown defense.
University of Texas at Baylor – 6 p.m. Sunday
The home finale against Texas and Baylor was originally scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff. Both teams reached a mutual agreement to push kickoff to a later start.
Five seniors will be on the roster for their final home game of the season on Sunday: Wilde, forward Justine Hovden, forward Natalie Huggins midfielder Anja Rosales and goalkeeper Michelle Kloss.
Baylor soccer held its Senior Night earlier in the season to avoid emotion playing too big of a part in the final home game. Inevitably, Sunday night will be an emotional night anyway, Wilde said.
“It’ll definitely be cool to be passionate and emotional playing my last game here at Betty Lou Mays,” Wilde said. “I’ve personally grown quite a bit from playing this field with all the different generations of players and the coaches. It’s been a real exciting time for me here, at Baylor, and a lot of that growing has happened on this field.”
The Longhorns are on a two-game losing streak in Big 12 play and will face the Bears after a game against Oklahoma in Norman tonight. Texas also has two games this weekend like the Bears. Because of the two-game weekend and how late it is in the season, the fittest team could emerge victorious, Jobson said.
Texas has two wins in conference over Texas Tech and Iowa State. Both teams have a lot to play for, Jobson said, and it’s going to come down to the wire at this point in the regular season.