By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
Last November, Baylor soccer was left out of the NCAA Tournament despite finishing third in the Big 12 Conference and compiling a 12-7-1 record in the regular season.
Teams below the Bears in the Big 12 standings such as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and TCU received bids to compete for the national championship, but Baylor did not qualify.
Bears head coach Paul Jobson said the team is looking to add tougher opponents in the non-conference in order to build a stronger tournament resume.
“We tried to push the schedule a little bit harder this year,” Jobson said. “If 12 wins last year wasn’t enough to get into the tournament then we’ve got to do more.”
An important factor to consider when scheduling, Jobson says, is the unpredictability of other teams.
“You can’t predict,” Jobson said. “Last year we had some teams on our schedule that were perennial powerhouses that had bad years. This year we’ve got some really good teams. We’re going to Portland to play Portland and Washington. Again, perennial teams that do really well, they both had down years last year.”
In addition to the Portland trip, the Bears will face Rice, Houston Baptist, UTSA, Ball State and SMU before starting the Big 12 schedule against No. 1-ranked West Virginia.
Junior midfielder Julie James said missing the tournament was a letdown, but that they can only blame themselves.
“We’re really hoping for that this year, but we’re also taking one thing at a time,” James said. “Last year was disappointing for us when we didn’t make it but at the same time I do think we left some things out on the table.”
Senior defender Precious Akanyirige echoed these sentiments, adding that the regular season is long but the focus remains one game at a time.
“It’s definitely a huge goal,” Akanyirige said. “It’s a goal every year. Last year was our closest year in the three years that I’ve been here, so it’s definitely an even bigger fire for us this year. We just try to take it one game at a time. We’ve got to get through our season in order to get there so we’re just working hard to be the best we can be.”
For seniors like Akanyirige, the NCAA tournament has been elusive. The Bears haven’t made the postseason since 2012, and have only been selected four times since the inception of the program in 1996.
Baylor’s all-time Big 12 record is below .500, but Jobson knows they are in a better place now.
“We also know that with most of the teams we play this year, the target’s on our back,” Jobson said. “We’re not the underdog anymore like we were eight or nine years ago where we show up to the field and Baylor’s the underdog. We’ve got to change those roles and change that focus. We’ve got to show up and play against anybody because we know on any given day anyone can win the battle.”
The Bears (2-0) look to stay undefeated as they take on Rice (1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in Houston.