After automatically qualifying for the NCAA soccer tournament by winning the Big 12 tournament, Baylor got a bonus when the bids were announced Monday afternoon.
The Bears were among 32 teams chosen to host a first-round matchup, and will face Rice at 7 p.m. Friday at Betty Lou Mays Field. Baylor (13-5-2) is playing in its first NCAA tournament since 2012, and hosting for the first time since 2011.
“We thought we were done playing at Betty Lou, so to get one more chance there it’s going to be really fun,” said Baylor junior midfielder Julie James. “We’ve had a little bit of a redemption story getting to play a lot of the teams that we lost to in season, and that’s another team that we kind of let slip away.”
The Bears called their three-game sweep in the Big 12 tournament the Redemption Tour, and they hope their success continues against Rice. Baylor tied Rice (12-3-2) in a scoreless double overtime game on Aug. 24 in Houston.
“They were a good team then, they’ve been good down the stretch, and we’re just excited to be hosting, and hosting a good team,” said Baylor coach Paul Jobson. “Nicky (Adams) has done a great job there, and they always play us really, really well. So it’s going to be a great first-round match.”
After finishing fifth in the Big 12 regular season standings, Baylor knocked off higher seeded Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU in the conference tournament over the weekend in Kansas City to clinch the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. All three teams had beaten Baylor in overtime during the regular season.
The Bears believe they’re playing their best soccer coming into the NCAA tournament.
“We had a great week together and played really hard, and we’re really excited to continue to play in our season, and it’s awesome that we’re going to be able to play at home,” said Baylor defender Precious Akanyirige. “The goal is to continue to improve throughout the season, and I think we’ve been able to do that. Not just the results of the game, but also the soccer we’re playing and how we connect as a team.”
The winner of the Baylor-Rice game will play the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 3 seed USC (14-3-1) and Eastern Washington (16-5-1). If Baylor and USC win, the Bears would travel to Los Angeles for the second-round game.
Baylor was among five Big 12 teams to reach the NCAA tournament. West Virginia hosts Bucknell, Texas hosts North Texas, Oklahoma State hosts Missouri State and TCU travels to Arizona.
This is the Bears’ fifth appearance in the NCAA tournament, and they want to make the most of their opportunity.
“We’re not happy just being here,” Jobson said. “We want to take this thing all the way to the national championship. Why play the game if that’s not your goal?”