By AnnaGrace Hale | Sports Writer
Baylor soccer begins its Big 12 play at 7 p.m. Friday at Betty Lou Mays Field against the University of Oklahoma. Head coach Michelle Lenard’s squad has faced a challenging non-conference schedule up to this point, and the team views this conference play as an opportunity for a fresh start.
“We see all of those [non-conference] games — whether we won them or lost them or tied them — as opportunities for growth,” Lenard said. “Going into conference play, we feel really confident that our record is not a good reflection of our overall level. Now it’s conference play, everybody starts over, it’s a clean slate. What we’ve done up to this point, and what anyone has done up to this point doesn’t really matter. What matters is what happened starting on Friday.”
After coaching at Dallas Baptist University at the Division II level last season, this will be Lenard’s first test in the Big 12. Senior forward Jenna Patterson, a transfer from DBU, will also face her first Division I conference challenge on Friday. Patterson said the team is tapping into the excitement that was felt at the beginning of the season and trying to use that same energy going into this game.
“This is now settling in and the idea of a clean slate,” Patterson said. “So we’re kind of going into conference thinking everything that’s happened, we’re going to use it to our advantage.”
In conference openers, the Bears (2-4-2) are 7-14-5. This match is the third time Baylor goes head-to-head with the Sooners (5-2-2) in its first game of Big 12 play, and in those games, the program is 1-1-1.
Last season, Baylor fell 2-0 to OU in its final regular season matchup in Norman, Oklahoma. The green and gold look to avenge last year’s loss with a win on their home turf under the leadership of Lenard.
The Sooners are known for being aggressive, so the fight on Friday will be physical. Junior keeper Madison Martin said the team will have to be at the top of its game physically and mentally.
“We are not here to get pushed around,” Martin said. “We are here to assert our presence, whether that be dominantly physically, but then also tactically and technically.”
Baylor’s overall record against OU is 12-9-6, and as Lenard’s team has almost hit the halfway point of the season, they are trying to stay locked in mentally. Lenard said the team’s non-conference schedule was a tough one and that she made it that way. There are pros and cons to that initial challenge.
“That could mean you get upside-down in your record pretty quickly as you’re trying to learn and grow,” Lenard said. “It could mean if you do well early on, that sets you up for an NCAA tournament appearance. So, with all the changes that we’ve had with injuries, we ended up on the upside-down side of that. But what we have learned is that we’ve been tested in just about every way. We’ve played the best teams in the country. Outside of one game, we’ve been competitive and in a position to win every single game that we’ve played.”
Baylor is ready to bring the intensity for its Go Gold conference home opener and hopes to secure a victory at Betty Lou Mays Field.