Soccer faces unforeseen challenges in unusual spring season

Senior midfielder Ally Henderson looks to make a pass to forward Taylor Moon during a 2020 fall game at Betty Lou Mays against Kansas State. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Will Chamblee | Sports Writer

Baylor women’s soccer has had a chaotic spring. From somehow having zero cancellations or postponements in the fall, the Bears have already had three games canceled in the spring portion of the schedule.

Due to various extenuating circumstances, games against Texas A&M, TCU and Missouri have been removed from the schedule. For a team that is desperately trying to build a strong resume for an NCAA Tournament with fewer spots available than usual, cancellations can be deadly. Senior midfielder Ally Henderson is more aware of this than anyone.

“The disappointment of having three of our games canceled after having a weird COVID season in the fall really hit us hard,” Henderson said. “The spring’s always difficult, and training is always a grind in the offseason and then smack on these expectations being crashed down for us. It made for just — mentally — a really, really tough past couple of months.”

Cancellations haven’t been the only thing that have plagued the Bears in what has easily been the most bizarre season in the program’s history. Over 130 days removed from their last game, Baylor was forced to open their spring season without having played a full 11 v 11 game during the winter break, as the roster is too small to support such a scrimmage and the exhibition match against Texas A&M was canceled. Their opening opponent, LSU, had already played six games by the time they arrived in Waco.

The Bears have also had to deal with other issues involved playing in the spring. According to Baylor head coach Paul Jobson, players have had to deal with an increased amount of schoolwork. Most players take more classes in the spring because usually they would only be playing in the fall. The spring season has also cut into some player’s rehab, allowing the team less time to get healthy and return to full strength.

Despite a seemingly endless stream of problems, Jobson and the team have remained committed to facing the problems head-on.

“We’re not the authority on this. Nobody’s done this,” Jobson said. “There’s been a lot of different things and challenges as a coach, but the fun part is that it has been a little different. It has challenged us, and I think we’ve grown through that.”

For seniors like Henderson, returning to the field after the long break and many cancellations is an accomplishment in itself.

“This is kind of our light at the end of the tunnel training-wise,” Henderson said before Baylor’s opener against LSU. “We’re amped to beat up on some other players that aren’t each other. It’s been a long time coming for us.”

Baylor would drop its spring season opener to LSU, losing a tight affair 1-0. But in its second game, the Bears bounced back in a big way, taking down Louisiana 5-0 and finding its groove once again. After another difficult loss to Texas Wednesday, the Bears only have two games remaining to solidify their resume for the NCAA Tournament. They’ll face conference foes Oklahoma and Texas Tech on April 10 and April 17, respectively. Despite this, senior goalkeeper Jen Wandt isn’t feeling any pressure.

“I think that our mentality is ‘the most important game is the next game,’” Wandt said. “Even though we did take a break and came back, we don’t necessarily feel like it’s crunch time or do or die. We’re just ready to put our best foot forward each game and get into the NCAA Tournament.”

In Baylor’s eyes, if any team would be able to overcome the dire circumstances and reach the postseason, it would be this team, comprised of both experience and youth. Jobson praised his team’s ability to be flexible during the chaotic season.

“These girls have been really resilient,” Jobson said. “Maybe that’s what COVID has taught us even more, is to be resilient and embrace where you are.”