Baylor soccer’s backline brings team to forefront of Big 12

Graduate student defender Sarah Norman and senior defender Kaylee Ables stop Stephen F. Austin's attack. Grace Fortier | Photographer

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

The backline for Baylor soccer (7-3-5, 3-1-2) has been stout all season long. Through an experienced group of defenders, they have made their presence known out on the pitch. Opposing forwards have had their hands full in dealing with such a caliber of a backline. The team has only lost one game in over a month, with Baylor putting up a lot of goals but more critically, limiting scoring opportunities for their opponents.

Graduate student defender Sarah Norman said that with the backline being so experienced, they have stepped up as leaders for some of the younger players. She said that being leaders came naturally, as the team has meshed together as a group of friends.

“I think we spend so much time together as a team that it kind of just naturally happens,” Norman said. “We’re very lucky, I think it’s pretty rare; we are a very close-knit team and actually enjoy each other’s presence. It’s very easy to get along with people, even the freshmen—our age differences isn’t as big of a deal as a lot of people might think. Ava [Colberg] and I for example, we are the two that don’t go up on corners. We look at each other after every corner, give each other faces or something. That’s kind of built a little bit of a bond over the time.”

Norman also thinks that the encouraging attitude that the backline has helps maintain chemistry. They believe in each other, installing confidence to perform well and get the job done.

“I feel like we’re not an intimidating backline because we aren’t going to be the type of people like, ‘Oh, a new person is coming in, don’t mess up.’ We’re all really good about encouraging each other,” Norman said. “We know that we’re going to mess up and not be mad at each other, and just encourage each other throughout it all. I think when people [are] set back into there, they are not intimated, they’re excited because they know they are going to try their best and we know they are going to try their best and that’s all we can ask.”

Graduate student goalkeeper Jennifer Wandt has given credit to her backline for years, saying that none of her awards and accolades would’ve been possible without them. Senior defender Kayley Ables said the team doesn’t focus on statistics and awards. She said the team plays for other, and far more important, purposes in their eyes.

“We’re super, super big on [that] it doesn’t matter about the stats, it doesn’t matter about the awards,” Ables said. “Ultimately, we’re here to play for each other, we’re here to play for God, we’re here to play for ourselves; it’s not really for anybody else. I think we have confidence in each other on the field because we practice together and work together all day. I think we have that confidence in each other already built.”

Norman said the mindset for some of the older girls on the backline is to always remember that it’s just a soccer game. She said they will always work hard to achieve their goals, but it’s more important to remember that the team loves each other.

“I think a mentality that a lot of us older girls [have], a mentality that we bring, is [that] ‘it’s just a soccer game,'” Norman said. “We’re going to work hard; we’re going to do everything we can with what we can control [and] some things are just out of our control. When we are playing the hard teams, just work hard and it’s a soccer game. We’re still going to love you after the game. I think that helps when we play against those harder teams so people can play more freely.”

Ables said having the forward threats of senior forward Taylor Moon, sophomore forward Mackenzie Anthony and junior forward Elizabeth Kooiman is a huge bonus for the backline. She said the way they are able to put pressure on opposing defenses and keep the possession in favor of Baylor alleviates a lot of stress on the defense. Ables even said that the dominance of the forwards has allowed for the backline to have their own nickname.

“We’ve have had a lot of hype as ‘No Goal Patrol.’ Honestly, the best we can do if we have the best game of our lives, make no mistakes, no goal scored, is tie,” Ables said. “Unless one of us dribbles up and ridiculously scores or something but, we need [Moon, Anthony and Kooiman] to get goals for us in order for it to mean anything.”

Norman, while looking back on last season, said that it’s nice having so much depth at the defensive positions this season. She said that the attitude has changed from being concerned over injuries last year, to not worrying as much, knowing that they have more numbers and support.

“It’s nice to know because I know during [the] COVID-19 year just with people getting sick and injured, if someone went down, all of us would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, who’s going to go in’ because we were low on numbers,” Norman said. “It’s nice now, if someone goes down it’s like, ‘No worries, this person is next.’”

In Ables’ eyes, the team’s foundation is the backline. She said that there is a domino effect that starts with them first, trickling down to the next levels of the team. The defenders don’t get all the stats or glory of scoring goals, but Ables believes their job is just as, if not more, important.

“I think being consistent starts from the backline,” Ables said. “Even though we’re not the ones scoring goals, I think us going in for a big tackle is going to encourage the next line of midfielders and forwards to get stuck in. If each person is doing their job, that lets us get the goals.”

With a Big 12 championship potentially being in the future for Baylor soccer, the backline continuing to be a bright spot is necessary. As they dive deeper into conference play, Norman believes that as long as the backline keeps doing what they can to help the team, then the results will pay off. She also says that as long as they love each other and control what they can control, it will all work itself out.

“Really just keep working hard and having the mentality to do whatever we can to not let them score, throw out bodies in front of the ball, stuff like that,” Norman said. “Just remember that, whatever happens, happens; we can control how we work; we can control what we do. Just keep loving each other throughout it all and I think it will be a good result.”