By Will Chamblee | Sports Writer
Baylor soccer’s head coach Paul Jobson has always said his team “is built on defense.” He’s been proven right so far this season as the Bears boast one of the best defensive records in the nation, allowing only four goals so far.
And it has been said that a major part of Baylor’s defensive success has sprouted off the play of junior defender Kayley Ables, who according to her teammates has been the heart and soul of a Baylor defense that has posted four shutouts in six games this season.
“She is one of the most talented players I’ve been around,” sophomore defender Tara Sumer said. “She is a warrior on the field and will sacrifice anything for her teammates.”
But when Ables arrived at Baylor, she wasn’t a defender. In fact, she was the exact opposite — a striker.
A graduate of Waco High, Ables had one of the most productive high school careers in Texas history, scoring 100 goals over the course of three years. She was also named the 2016 Waco Tribune-Herald Super Centex Player of the Year as a high school junior.
Yet, during her freshman year at Baylor, Jobson decided to move Ables to the defensive line, a position she had not played competitively in a long time.
“Honestly looking back on it, we had a need,” Jobson said. “We kind of had a hole in our back line, and we needed somebody to fill it. We thought Kayley could be the short-term solution for that with every intention after that to move her up the field.”
Ables took it in stride, however, starting 25 games as the sole freshman on an experience Baylor backline and earning herself a place on the All-Big 12 preseason team her sophomore year.
“We knew she could shore up some critical defensive strategies and defensive abilities,” Jobson said on the change. “She also had the willingness to do whatever it was the team needed done.”
While injuries derailed her sophomore season, Ables came back stronger than ever. She has been a stalwart at the back for Baylor, winning two Big-12 Defensive Player of the Week awards in back-to-back weeks, the first Bear to do that since 2001.
“Actually, I don’t miss scoring,” Ables said. “Scoring is more of an objective stat, but I like stopping plays as well. To see opposing teams have a lot of shots and no goals means we’re doing something right.”
Her teammates have noticed her strong performances on defense and speak highly of her, not only as a player but as a person.
“Kayley is just a spark of energy,” senior midfielder Ally Henderson said. “Came in her freshman year and played since day one. She has so much experience to pour into the freshman that play on the backline with her. She just brings a lot to the team.”
Baylor may only has three games remaining in the shortened 2020 season, but Ables’s impact on the team will live on even after she’s graduated. Sumer said she has taken on the role of mentor for many of the younger players.
“I’ve been able to learn a lot from her and the way she plays and the way she carries herself on the field and pushes herself for every game,” Sumer said. “She’s really taken me under her wing and guides me in the right direction.”