By Ben Everett | Sports Editor
On Saturday, Baylor soccer ended its season the same way it did a year ago: with a 3-0 loss on the road in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Last year, the Bears made history. Despite dropping a 3-0 decision to Duke to end its season, Baylor reached the Elite Eight for the first time. This year, before falling to Georgetown in the Elite Eight, Baylor received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, good for highest in program history. They didn’t have to play a game away from home until after the Sweet Sixteen.
Baylor head coach Paul Jobson said being able to host the first three rounds of the tournament is a different feeling, but it’s something he expects the program to do more of in the future.
“It’s a lot different,” Jobson said. “It’s something we’d like to continue to do. We’d like that to be the norm … We’ve been successful this year because of our mentality. When you’ve had success, you continue what you’ve been doing to continue that success.”
Not only did Baylor land the highest NCAA Tournament seed it has ever received, it also broke the program record for wins with 20. Senior midfielder Julie James said the Bears were committed from day one to be able to get the opportunity to be a national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s just a blessing,” James said. “I’m very thankful that this team stayed committed day-in and day-out to make that a possibility.”
The season started out rocky for the Bears, tying Sam Houston State in their exhibition game and losing three of their first eight games of the regular season. Baylor entered Big 12 Conference play with a 7-3 record, but fell to Texas in the conference opener.
Sitting at 7-4, the Bears rallied to win eight straight games and win the Big 12 regular season title for the second time in program history and the first time since 1998. Junior forward Camryn Wendlandt said she knew this team could accomplish great things.
“I think that the whole team wanted this for the seniors,” Wendlandt said. “This hasn’t been done in 20 years. We have a really special group of girls, we have a lot of talent, and we have the mentality and heart that no other team has had.”
In 2017, the Bears won the Big 12 tournament title for the second time in school history. Senior forward Kennedy Brown, who was a part of two Big 12 championship teams, said the program continues to climb to new heights.
“It’s so surreal,” Brown said. “Last year we got tournament champs, this year it’s regular season and I feel like that just means so much more. We have to battle each week, every single week and every team is good in the Big 12. We don’t stop. We keep going, no matter what.”
Baylor clinched the Big 12 title when West Virginia lost on the last night of the regular season and the Bears won. The two teams met in the Big 12 Tournament title game, where the Mountaineers dominated their way to a 3-0 win. Jobson said missing out on back-to-back Big 12 Tournament titles was a disappointment.
“It hurt,” Jobson said. “We wanted to win the championship and I think we had the tools and the people to do it. It was just out of our reach a little bit this time. It was bad. It stung.”
Despite the loss to West Virginia, the Bears still garnered a No. 2 seed, hosting the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Baylor took down Abilene Christian, Vanderbilt and Virginia to advance to its second straight Elite Eight. Jobson said making a deep tournament run is something the program is not used to, but Baylor soccer has come a long way.
“It hasn’t really [sunk in],” Jobson said. “It’s pretty incredible where we started here 11 years ago, how far this program has come and the support we’ve gotten from Baylor University, and this community has been something really special.”
Baylor was anchored on offense by senior midfielder Julie James, a three-time All Big 12 first team selection. James scored a career-high 10 goals this season to go along with three assists. Junior forward Camryn Wendlandt also chipped in 10 goals, including five game-winners.
Sophomore goalkeeper Jennifer Wandt led the way on defense, recording 76 saves and allowing just 0.7 goals per game. Senior defender Sarah King, an All Big 12 first team selection, led all players with 2,363 minutes played.
The Bears will look to continue their newfound success next season as they can return as many as 19 players and eight starters from this year’s squad.