By AnnaGrace Hale | Sports Writer
In a 90-minute thriller, Baylor soccer shut down the University of Kansas 3-2 Thursday night after scoring two goals in the last three minutes of play at Betty Lou Mays field. Head coach Michelle Lenard’s team has struggled to find the back of the net in conference play to this point.
Despite this, Lenard said with grit and perseverance, the team showed it can capitalize, even under pressure.
“It just shows the team what we’re really capable of,” Lenard said. “The team has worked really hard, and it has showed in the way that we’ve performed but not necessarily the outcome of games. To finally get an outcome that we feel like we deserved.”
Freshman forward Reneta Vargas looked to be the difference maker for the Bears (2-6-2, 1-2-0 Big 12). The striker netted two goals for the green and gold, one being the game winner. This game was Vargas’ home debut after finding her first collegiate minutes against the University of Texas on Friday. Vargas was out for two months due to a sprained ankle and now has come to prove herself.
“Last week, I was kind of nervous,” Vargas said. “It was pretty tough. I was hard on myself, but the coaches talked to me. My teammates talked to me, and I was kind of relaxed after that. Then I came out here, I did my thing and I scored two goals.”
The Coppell High School graduate’s first goal came in the 18th minute. Junior midfielder Gabby Mueller intercepted a pass in the midfield and cut through Kansas’ (7-5-1, 0-3-1 Big 12) defense. Mueller sent the ball to Vargas, who sank it in the back of the net.
This goal not only gave Baylor the lead but also brought the Bears out of a three-game scoreless rut. The Jayhawks wasted no time responding with a goal two minutes later to put the score at 1-1.
Within the rest of the first half, there seemed to be a missing piece for Baylor. Crosses were served across the box with no one at the end of them. Shots were off target or from too far out. Good opportunities came from corners, especially in the 27th minute as freshman defender Hannah Augustyn headed the ball right over the crossbar.
In the second half, Kansas came out firing. It found a quick goal off a corner in the 49th minute, and the Jayhawks took a 2-1 advantage.
“Came back in the second half,” Lenard said. “Looked really flat the first 10 minutes. Did not look good. I was really concerned. And that’s something we’ve struggled with this season: consistency. But today, there was something different.”
Junior Ashley Merrill rose to the occasion — literally. With a service from junior defender Sarah Hornyak from the right side of the box, Merrill jumped to meet the ball with her head, scoring the equalizer.
“We really needed that goal to tie us up, and we all just wanted it really bad,” Merrill said. “An amazing ball by Sarah [Hornyak], and everyone coming together like that moment after — everyone’s celebrating together just brought us so much momentum for the third goal.”
The final goal was found with 37 seconds left in the game. Sophomore forward Haven Terry scrambled to fit in a corner as the clock was running down. Terry hit the ball into the box where freshman defender Hallie Augustyn hit the ball toward the goal. Vargas connected with the ball in the back of the net for the second time of the night.
“I didn’t see anyone on the keeper, and I felt like that ball was going to go straight to the keeper,” Vargas said. “I was just at the right spot and just kicked it in, and it went in.”
Vargas starts her season with two goals in her pocket, but Lenard said she is still trying to get game-fit.
“[Vargas] is able to solve problems in different ways and be very creative and just be very intuitive,” Lenard said. “As she tries to adjust to the speed of things and the physicality and fitness, she’s still able to make a difference, because she’s clever, she’s smart and she just gets herself in really good positions.”
After Lenard’s first Big 12 win, the squad returns to Betty Lou at noon on Sunday in hopes of continuing its winning streak. Kansas State University will arrive in Waco, still in search of its first conference success after losing to the University of Texas 4-0 on Thursday.
“Look to build on the success that we had today,” Lenard said. “Sunday, K-State is going to be a great opportunity for us to build, try to string together two positive results.”