Holding down the fort: Henderson provides defensive experience on young team

Senior midfielder Ally Henderson takes a penalty kick against Oklahoma in conference game on Nov. 6, 2020 at Betty Lou Mays Field. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Will Chamblee | Sports Writer

With 14 freshmen making up over half the roster, experience comes at a premium for Baylor soccer, but senior defensive midfielder Ally Henderson provides it in abundance. With 80 starts for the Bears, Henderson has played the most games of any player on the young Baylor team, which only features three seniors.

Alongside fellow seniors, goalkeeper Jen Wandt and defender Sarah Norman, Henderson has helped lead a young defensive unit to seven shutouts this season and has anchored one of the best defenses in the country. Henderson was most recently named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week because of her performance against Louisiana where the Bears won 5-0.

Baylor head coach Paul Jobson said the leadership of the seniors has allowed the freshmen to integrate and develop quickly, contributing to the fearsome and stout defense.

“Ally Henderson, she’s our defensive midfielder. She’s a veteran,” Jobson said. “You got some veteran players in there, Kayley Ables, and just their mix with some of our young kids. They’re great leaders so it’s easier for the young kids to step in and follow suit.”

But with COVID-19, on-the-field leadership isn’t the only type of leadership that has been needed this season from Henderson. The Bears have had to deal with the increased pressure of trying to make a reduced NCAA Tournament field while having no time to scrimmage or play exhibition matches to prepare for the important spring season.

“This is our fourth year, and we have never felt this way going into a spring, where it’s like, that pressure’s there,” Henderson said. “We don’t have time to get our feet wet. We have freshmen who need experience now. We have injuries that we’ve got to figure out now, which in the past it hasn’t been that way. So, yea, there’s an increased amount of pressure that we feel for sure, but in a fun way, because we’re kind of just rolling with it at this point.”

In a season that has been difficult to prepare for, Henderson has committed to having a mentality of flexibility and adaptability. Her steady mentality has spread to the rest of the team, especially the freshmen who have not experienced collegiate soccer.

“We’ve kind of just adapted this attitude as a team of like, ‘If things change, they change. If our game gets moved, it gets moved,’” Henderson said. “We’re just hoping for the best and preparing for the worst-case scenarios, and we’re going to be ready when it’s our time.”

Baylor ended the fall portion of their season with a vital 1-0 win against Oklahoma that brought their record to .500. The seniors hoped to continue the momentum from that game into the spring season.

Now with only two games remaining in the season, Henderson and Baylor will look to make one final push towards an NCAA Tournament bid, with important games against Oklahoma and Texas Tech upcoming. Henderson and the Baylor seniors will look to continue to build the culture they have cultivated during this pandemic-riddled season.