Tall Task: Baylor soccer awaits No. 1 UNC

Baylor playing against Minnesota on Thursday, August 18. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

It’s not common to face the top-ranked team in the country, but after the University of North Carolina jumped from 10th to No.1, Baylor soccer finds themselves slated to play the nation’s best program. The matchup is scheduled to start at noon on Sunday at the Mike A. Myers Stadium and Soccer Field in Austin, and it’s the first time the Bears have faced a No. 1 ranked team since 1998, which was against none other than UNC, where Baylor lost 5-0.

Despite the daunting task ahead, the Bears (1-1-1) feel they normally rise to the occasion, even against the country’s best squads.

“It’s going to be really exciting because I always think we step up to huge opponents,” junior forward Olivia Mack said. “It’s more like excitement, like no nervousness or anything. Just ready to get out there and see how we are against these top teams, because you never know until you play them.”

The last time the Bears faced the Tar Heels (2-0-0) was on Nov. 18, 2012, with the game ending in a 1-1 tie. Overall, UNC leads the series 2-0-1 over Baylor.

The Bears’ program, featuring a lot of new faces and a new system, have 15 newcomers out of 34 total athletes. Of those 15, 11 have played in the first two games of the season.

With such a young group, junior midfielder Sarah Hornyak said fear might play a small role for the underclassman when looking ahead at No. 1 UNC. However, she said the team has been preaching a way to overcome those nerves.

“The thing that we’ve been saying a lot is that fear is a feeling and that courage is doing things while you’re scared anyway,” Hornyak said. “That’s been said a lot around our team, just because we’re very young with 15 new people. Maybe there is a little bit of fear, but also just knowing that you can control getting over that.”

Head coach Michelle Lenard said she’s grateful for the challenge ahead of them and she is confident her group will step up for the occasion.

“It’ll be a great challenge for us,” Lenard said. “We need to be able to compete with the best teams in the country and so we really look forward to the opportunity to do that. I know Liv said the team has historically risen to the challenge and I expect no different this weekend.”

Baylor left Waco on Wednesday for a Thursday matchup against the University of Florida that the Bears won 2-1. Rather than commuting back, the team will stay in Austin for a long weekend.

Hornyak said the extensive road trip allows for those newer faces to get more acclimated with the upperclassman, overall increasing team chemistry.

“It’s also a much needed bonding experience,” Hornyak said. “The closer that our team gets, the more that we’re going to gel, and the better we’re going to look.”

Mack echoed the viewpoint and said that as the upperclassman, she is using the opportunity to mesh with some of the younger girls.

“It gives us a chance to just get to know the underclassmen a little more,” Mack said. “We get put with them as our roommates and stuff, and so you get to hear their stories. I think it’s really fun and exciting.”

After getting their first win of the season Thursday, Lenard and the group are going to continue to use the time on the road to their advantage. With more hours together, they feel the camaraderie will come together and make them better on the pitch.

“We need this time on the road,” Lenard said. “I think these [games] are really going to help us settle in [and] build some relationships, which I think translates to more success on the field.”

Sunday’s contest against UNC can be watched on the Longhorn Network for those with a cable provider.