Riding high: Soccer preps for home stretch following successful road trip

Baylor senior midfielder Kennedy Brown heads the ball against Butler on Sept. 13 at Betty Lou Mays Field. The Bears have four remaining games in the regular season, all at home. Jason Pedreros | Multimedia Journalist

By Ben Everett | Sports Editor

As No. 14-ranked Baylor soccer prepares to close out their season with four straight home matches, beginning with a 7 p.m. matchup against Oklahoma State on Friday at Betty Lou Mays Field, the Bears find themselves in uncharted territory.

Baylor is ranked No. 8 in the Rating Percentage Index (RPI), a tool used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee to decide who makes the NCAA Tournament and where they are seeded. The Bears have never had a higher ranking in the program’s 23-year history.

Last weekend, the Bears took over first place in the Big 12 conference standings with the program’s first-ever win over West Virginia and an overtime win against Iowa State, both on the road.

Baylor head coach Paul Jobson said the Bears weren’t thinking about history when they took on then-No. 16-West Virginia.

“It was huge,” Jobson said. “We were talking as a staff before we went up there about how we always play West Virginia really, really well. I have a ton of respect for them and what they do. It’s a tough place to go and win. No one’s done that in a long time, and that’s something we didn’t really know until after the game.”

Baylor now stands at 4-1 in the Big 12 and is tied with Texas for the lead in the conference. The Bears finished their conference road schedule 3-1 with the 2-1 win over the Cyclones on Sunday, and junior defender Audrey Johnston said it was exciting to see the team’s hard work pay off.

“It was awesome just to see the grit and hard work of our team,” Johnston said. “Both teams that we played were awesome and so I think getting those wins was a huge thing for our team and just shows how well we’re working together.”

The Bears won’t have to play away from Betty Lou Mays Field until the Big 12 Championship starting on Oct. 28. Baylor’s final four games are all on its home turf, but Jobson said the Bears can’t take their foot off the gas.

“We have to continue to maintain our perspective and not look too much at the outside factors,” Jobson said. “Our purpose has to remain steady … We just have to work day in and day out so that we don’t lose sight of what we’re trying to do.”

The Bears welcome in Oklahoma State, a team that has lost its last two games, on Friday. The Cowgirls beat Kansas and Kansas State and tied Texas to open Big 12 play, but have lost to Oklahoma and Texas Tech in the past two weeks. Jobson said Oklahoma State is not a team to be taken lightly.

“Good team,” Jobson said. “They’re very well coached and very organized. They’re coming off a weekend at home where they maybe feel like one got away from them. It’s always a tough match. In this conference it can go either way on any day.”

Oklahoma State is led by senior forward Marlo Zoller, who has six goals and two assists on the season. Sophomore Kim Rodriguez leads the team with 1,248 minutes played.

Baylor sophomore goalkeeper Jennifer Wandt has stepped up recently, recording six or more saves in three of the last four games. Wandt notched a career-high nine saves in the upset of West Virginia. Jobson said Wandt has not backed down to a challenge this season.

“She’s been fantastic all year,” Jobson said. “We’ve talked about how our goalkeepers don’t have to do a lot because our goalkeepers do really well, but then those moments when she has to step up, she steps up big … She’s ready for the task and she’s been big for us.”

On offense, the Bears are led by senior midfielder Julie James and senior forward Jackie Crowther, who each have 13 points on the season. James leads the way with six goals while Crowther has five assists.

Freshman midfielder Giuliana Cunningham, who leads all freshmen with five goals, said the team can’t wait to finish off their season in front of the home crowd.

“Being at home is a huge advantage for us,” Cunningham said. “I think it’s really exciting, going from all that traveling to just finally be home and finishing off the season. I think this is something we all want and enjoy too.”