By Jeffrey Swindoll
Shootout heartbreak marked the end of No. 7-seeded Baylor soccer’s season at the Big 12 Conference Championship Tournament against the No. 6-seeded University of Oklahoma on Friday in Kansas City, Kan. The Bears were ousted by a recurring theme this season – stout defense and an ineffective offense.
The Bears only won games in conference play this season. Although giving up very few goals throughout the season, their defensive efficiency was not reciprocated with goals on the other end of the field. Eventually, the fortifications built by the defense get broken down if the offensive players cannot take advantage of their opportunities to score.
It was a tale of two seasons for the Bears. Baylor won six of the 10 games, including an impressive 2-1 win over No. 23 BYU in Utah and a respectable performance in a 1-0 loss to No. 19 Notre Dame. A 6-4-1 record, and an undefeated 4-0-1 record at home before conference play yielded potential for a successful rest of the season.
Things went south for the Bears in Big 12 competition though. The Bears’ pristine home record was tainted in the first game against a Big 12 team in the 2014 season, losing 1-0 to Kansas. Two days after their first home loss to KU, the Bears defeated the Iowa State Cyclones who ended the season without a win in Big 12 play. The Bears had to wait a few more weeks before notching their next and only other win in the conference regular season against Oklahoma.
Despite struggling in the regular season, the Bears managed to clinch the sixth seed for the eight-team Big 12 Conference Championship Tournament last week. Going into that tournament, the Bears did not have the record or resume to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
At that point, anything less than the tournament title would not suffice for them to qualify for the national tournament. It was all or nothing. The Bears acknowledged their hardships from the regular season but optimistically viewed the tournament as an opportunity to turn the season around.
The Bears began the tournament by playing the top-seeded team of their bracket and a team they had already lost against in the regular season – Oklahoma State.
It was a tournament full of upsets, and the Bears perhaps had the most unexpected one. Baylor was the lowest-seeded team to advance to the semi-finals after shocking OSU 1-0. No. 1-seeded WVU was the only higher-seeded team to win its opening match.
Baylor, two games away from its second-ever Big 12 tournament title, faced Oklahoma, a team they beat 2-1 in the regular season.
The Bears did not concede for the 200 minutes of time they played at the tournament, holding OSU and OU scoreless through regulation and overtime. However, Oklahoma edged the Bears 3-2 in a crushing penalty shootout loss for Baylor. Of the five shots attempted by the Bears in the shootout, three of them were seniors. All three seniors – Natalie Huggins, Alexa Wilde and Justine Hovden — failed to put the ball on frame, missing high or wide.
“This group of seniors is one of the smartest groups of young ladies,” Baylor co-head coach Marci Jobson said. “They’ve been such a pleasure to coach. The whole group has been a blessing and pleasure to coach.”
It was a gut-wrenching turn of events for the seniors to end their collegiate careers in such fashion as a shootout loss. It was disappointing, but there is much to admire about this year’s seniors and overall team. The Bears finished the season with a 9-8-3 record.
“My comments to them in the beginning [of the match on Friday] were they had to leave everything out on the field,” Marci Jobson said. “Penalty kicks come down to the ability to shoot the ball on goal and they’re nerve racking. I couldn’t have asked for anything more and I’m really proud of them. They came on well at the end of the season amidst adversity. I’m proud of their effort and these seniors.”