The Baylor soccer players learned a hard lesson after being left out of last year’s NCAA tournament.
Don’t leave anything to chance. Make your resume so impressive that the tournament selection committee can’t overlook you again.
That’s the approach the Bears are taking heading into the season which begins at 5 p.m. Friday against Louisiana-Lafayette at Betty Lou Mays Field. Baylor will face Wyoming at 6 p.m. Sunday in its second home game of the weekend.
“I’m super pumped,” said Baylor junior midfielder Julie James. “It’s always really exciting to have a home opener. We’ve been waiting since the spring. It’s been great seeing the team grow, and it seems like it’s been a really long time just anticipating the season starting.”
The Bears finished last season with a 12-7-1 overall record and tied for third in the Big 12 with a 4-3-1 record. But while Big 12 champion West Virginia, second-place Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas made the NCAA tournament, the Bears were overlooked.
Baylor was disappointed but didn’t sulk about the snub.
“The kind of approach we had after the season is we just can’t leave anything up to a committee to make a decision,” said Baylor coach Paul Jobson. “It needs to be 100 percent evident that we should be in. Our RPI wasn’t where it needed to be, so we were kind of in the talking fringe of whether we go or not.”
Jobson hopes this year’s nonconference schedule will help boost the Bears, especially a road trip to Portland to face perennial powers Portland on Sept. 8 and Washington on Sept. 10.
The following weekend Baylor will travel to Dallas to face SMU, which is coming off an NCAA tournament appearance, before opening Big 12 play against powerhouse West Virginia on Sept. 22 at Betty Lou Mays Field.
“The nonconference play is extremely important,” Jobson said. “We’re going to play Portland and Washington on the road, and hopefully get two great results there that should be extremely impactful. But I really feel like we have to take care of the games here. We’ve got to win at home, can’t let anything slide, and we’ve got to be extremely sharp.”
But the biggest key will be Baylor’s performance in Big 12 play. With NCAA championship game finalist West Virginia leading the way, the conference should be powerful once again.
Picked fifth in the preseason poll, the Bears need to perform well against the top teams in the league and avoid losses to the lower teams.
“Our conference is extremely competitive,” Jobson. “The last couple years, one through six or one through seven are usually getting in. That’s traditionally what it’s been. There were a few years where it was down where there were only two or three that were getting in. This team is built for a championship on paper. But we’ve got to step on the field and make it a reality.
Like all of Jobson’s teams, this year’s model is built on a formidable defense.
Veterans like seniors Precious Akanyirige and Aline De Lima and juniors James, Kylie Ross and Sarah King will be counted on heavily to provide leadership.
Akanyirige has played all over the field for the Bears but she’ll be counted on mostly for her defense this season.
“Having a veteran like Precious who has played just about every position on the field for us in her career, and having her as a stronghold on our back line, puts some leadership and experience back there for sure,” Jobson said. “Right beside her is going to be Kylie. She’s a junior who has played quite a bit over her career, so she’s an experienced kid as well, and Sarah King on the left side. There’s a lot of experience there.”
Following an outstanding sophomore season, James was named preseason all-Big 12. She’s also a threat as a scorer after collecting three goals and five assists last season. King will also be counted on to chip in with the scoring after hitting four goals and dishing out five assists last year.
“Julie (James) is more of a defensive midfielder, but she plays a big role for us, switching the point of attack from right, getting in on head balls in the box,” Jobson said. “She’s really a pivotal person for our team. So if you look up the spine of our field, you’ve got Precious, Julie, Aline, are right up the middle of that.”
With Sara Martinson gone, Baylor’s goal keepers are sophomore Hannah Parrish and freshman Jennifer Wandt. Parrish collected four saves and posted shutouts in Baylor’s exhibition 2-0 wins over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Abilene Christian last weekend.
Sophomore goal keeper Maggie Burton is out for the season after suffering an ACL tear in the summer. But Jobson feels confident with his two healthy goal keepers.
“Hannah and Jen are both young goal keepers, but I’ve said this before they are the most experienced young goal keepers we’ve ever had,” Jobson said. “They’re very good with their feet and are able to provide some things for our team that we haven’t seen in the past.”
The Bears hope to get more offensive production this season. Junior Lauren Piercy is back after leading the Bears with seven goals last season but she’s been battling injuries that could limit her playing time early in the season.
De Lima is another scoring threat who looked impressive in exhibition play.
“I think Aline is going to be our most impactful attacking player,” Jobson said. “She’s a kid that will take over a game. So if she’s not scoring, she’s going to be creating opportunities for others to score or attracting so much attention that other people will have opportunities to score.”
Sophomores Halee Sowinski, Raegan Padgett and Marissa Kinsey could aid in the scoring while freshmen Emily Bunnell and Ally Henderson should make an impact. Sophomore transfer Camryn Wendlandt from San Diego State is also a threat.
After playing in just 11 games last season after playing for the Under 20 Mexico National team, Jackie Crowther should help Baylor’s scoring.
“We couldn’t put her in a primary role last year because she wasn’t going to be here,” Jobson said. “She’ll play more of a primary role this year. She’s a dynamic kid, she’s quick, she’s fast, she’s got a great left foot and she’s great in the air, so she has a lot to offer.”