It’s been a season of ups and downs for Baylor soccer. The Bears were tested by strong opponents and produced some impressive victories, but struggled with being consistent in Big 12 play. The Bears’ regular season of mixed results ends at 7 p.m. tonight in Morgantown, W.Va. against the conference-leading West Virginia.
Baylor started the season with a bit of a measuring stick, playing against the national powerhouse University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. The Bears only managed to get one shot off against the Gators, but Baylor co-head coach Marci Jobson described UF as “the best team [she has] ever coached against.” From there, the Bears saw the areas in which they needed to improve.
The Bears returned to Waco and remained undefeated in five games at Betty Lou Mays Field before kicking off conference play against Kansas. Home wasn’t the only place the Bears found success in the pre-conference schedule though.
The nationally-ranked BYU and Notre Dame faced off against the Bears. Baylor stunned BYU in front of their home fans with a 2-1 decision. Against Notre Dame, the Bears’ defense stood strong apart from one mistake on a set piece that ended up being the game-winning goal for Notre Dame.
The taste of victory from the BYU game was equal to the portion of humble pie they had to swallow in their loss to Notre Dame. The Bears entered conference play with level heads, with faith in their potential to be one of the conference’s toughest teams.
Conference play started sour for the Bears. Baylor’s pristine record at home in 2014 was tarnished by the Jayhawks. KU forward Liana Salazar finished a cross into Baylor’s goal early in the first half. Salazar’s goal was the difference in that game which ended 1-0. The Bears bounced right back with a convincing 2-0 victory over Iowa State at home, just two days after a demoralizing loss to Kansas.
The middle of the conference season is when things got a little shaky for the Bears. TCU came to Waco and escaped with a 1-1 tie against the Bears. Since the beginning of conference play, the Bears have only won one match when the opponent scored.
The Bears’ goal production has not been on par with the rest of the Big 12’s aggressive offenses. After TCU, Baylor lost three of its last four games, including a heartbreaking loss on a 90th minute goal from the Longhorns in the Bears’ home finale for the season.
“Soccer is a game of moments,” Jobson said. “You have to be alert, concentrated and focused for moments. I think that last 20 seconds [against Texas] is kind of a metaphor for what our problem has been for a lot of the season. It’s not that anybody taps out of the play, but we need somebody to step up. That’s the difference.”
The Bears are currently tied with Oklahoma at sixth in the Big 12 Conference standings with 7 points. Baylor can end its regular season with a bang against the league-leading Mountaineers tonight. West Virginia has been near perfect against conference teams this season, en route to their third-straight Big 12 regular season title.
“I think it makes it an exciting challenge to finish our season [against West Virginia],” senior midfielder Alexa Wilde said. “Why not finish our season against a great team, have a great game and have a team that challenges us to be the best team that can possibly be in our very last game of the season? I’m more excited to finish against them than anything.”
Wilde contributed to the team with her physical playstyle, willingness to sacrifice her body and aerial versatitliy. Wilde notched three goals and one assist in 17 matches this season.
West Virginia, currently on a six-game winning streak in conference and 14-game winning streak overall, has won three Big 12 regular season titles in three years as a Big 12 school. West Virginia has been, without a doubt, the most dominant team in the Big 12 since joining in 2012.
“Going through every game, all of our losses, we were right there with every team and I think West Virginia is going to be another one of those teams and I think it’s about us saying, ‘We’re not right there with them. We’re better than them,’” junior midfielder Bri Campos said.
Campos is arguably the team’s most valuable player. Her work ethic, calmness and decisiveness on and off the ball is critical to the Bears’ success. If Campos has a good game, the Bears probably have a good game. She is the engine for the Bears’ offense and is the first line of defense in front of Baylor’s back line. Campos leads her team with six goals and two assists on the season.
The Mountaineers’ goal difference over the course of the season (+12) speaks volumes for their athleticism and offensive prowess. West Virginia is the clear favorite heading into the match against Baylor and the Big 12 Championship Tournament next week in Kansas City, Kan.
“We need to continue to be motivated and go into West Virginia getting it right,” Jobson said. “We’ve been in every game this season, competing with some of the best teams in the country. If we can get that missing piece right on a 90-minute scale then we can beat, I think, anybody.”