Since arriving at Baylor in 2015, Sarah King’s offensive production has declined every year.
But don’t take that as a sign that her college soccer career is in free fall.
As the years have progressed, Baylor coach Paul Jobson has increasingly needed to use her talents defensively. That’s been especially true this year after losing standout defender Precious Akanyirige from last year’s team that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
Instead of complaining about her diminished scoring, King has thrived in her new role as she made first-team all-Big 12 as a defender this season while helping the Bears win the conference regular season championship for the first time since 1998.
As a No. 2 national seed, the Bears (17-5) will open the NCAA tournament against Abilene Christian (15-5-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Betty Lou Mays Field.
Baylor couldn’t have gotten this far without King, whose career has been all about making sacrifices for the team.
“It’s something I really respect about her,” said Baylor senior Julie James. “Everyone comes in with their own wants and desires. We all battle every day and we talk a lot about that it’s not about you, it’s about we as a team. I think Sarah really shows that going from forward to defense. When you’re on defense you’re not getting as much individual recognition. That’s one way you can sacrifice for the team and she’s really done that for us.”
With her 5-11 frame, King has the size and athleticism to cover a lot of ground. Her main goal this year has been stopping opposing players from getting in position to score and helping goalkeeper Jennifer Wandt.
“I’ve kind of had the attitude about it as wherever the team needs me,” King said. “But obviously it’s a different role. As a forward it’s all about scoring goals. You just have a lot more responsibility when you’re playing on the back line. That’s been a challenge over the years moving back there, but it’s still a lot of fun and I’m enjoying it.”
Playing defense at a high level takes a gritty mindset and complete focus for each game. One goal often means the difference between winning and losing, so even a second of careless play can be costly.
Playing in the Big 12, King has matched up against some of the quickest and most dangerous forwards in the country. She’s more than held her own.
“She’s pretty even keeled and is very steady, and you need that kind of mentality as the last line of defense,” Jobson said. “She’s also stepped up as a lot bigger vocal leader. If we put her up front, she could score some goals. But we’ve been able to produce up front and we really needed some solid play in the back. She’s been able to provide that.”
Coming out of Coppell High School in 2015, King made a major impact as a forward for the Bears as she ranked 16th nationally with 10 assists while scoring a pair of goals. She led the Bears with 14 points and was named to the Big 12 all-freshman team.
Having that kind of success as a freshman was exciting and a great sign that King would be an impact player for Jobson’s soccer program for years to come.
“I don’t know if anything can really prepare you for that jump, especially as a freshman playing against girls who are three or four years older than you are,” King said. “I think it helped to have other freshmen who were playing. The rest of the team was super helpful as far as getting us integrated. I think the process went as smooth as it could have gone.”
As a sophomore, King nearly matched her freshman numbers as she finished with four goals and a team-high five assists for 13 points. During her junior year, King began focusing on defense as she moved to left back. Though she collected three goals and four assists, her role had clearly changed as she helped the Bears reach the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
Now as a center back, her role is almost completely defensive-oriented. She’s scored one goal and dished out one assist, but offensive statistics are just a bonus.
“She reminds me a lot of Precious because she played forward, midfield and back for us too,” Jobson said. “Those types of players that come through your program who can be versatile and good at every position they play can be very valuable.
“You can put them in wherever you need them most. She was a great left winger for us, and when we changed our system a little bit, she was a great left back. Then losing Precious, she was the most veteran back we were going to have, and she’s done a great job playing center back this year and really solidifying the back line.”
Baylor pulled off one of the biggest wins in school history by beating West Virginia, 1-0, in overtime on Oct. 5 in Morgantown. It was the Bears’ first ever win against the Mountaineers as they went on to win their last eight regular season games to capture the Big 12 title.
The win over West Virginia was especially thrilling for King because much of her family is from that area of the country.
“My parents are both from Pittsburgh,” King said. “My whole family is from up there, so I had aunts, uncles, grandparents. It was awesome because they’re only 1½ hours away. That was our big family reunion trip. We went up there two years ago and we lost that game, so it was kind of bittersweet to see my family but at the same time lose. This time around, I got the best of both worlds to see my family and get that incredible win.”
King comes from an athletic family since her father John played basketball at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and her mother Kristal played volleyball at Indiana University in Pennsylvania. Her brother, Charles King, is a junior pitcher for the TCU baseball team.
“My parents wear green and purple, it’s hilarious,” King said. “My brother has been super supportive of me and my career and I love to see him play baseball as well, so that’s been cool. He played in the College World Series when he was a freshman up in Omaha. It was awesome, he pitched a great game.”
King began playing soccer before she entered elementary school and eventually played with and against some of the best players in the country as a member of the Under-18 Dallas Texans’ club team.
“Our nationals were in Colorado, Seattle, Richmond, Va.,” King said. “That was always exciting. We were kind of rivals with the Dallas Sting, which is who (Baylor teammates) Ariel Leach, Lauren Piercy and Julie James played for. That was always so much fun playing against them.”
Though King was widely recruited, she chose Baylor because of its academics and faith-based principles, and it’s close to her home in the Metroplex.
“When I visited, you could just tell there was something different about this program,” King said. “Now that I’m part of it and being able to move through it as a senior, I realize the culture of the team is different. We’re a faith-based team, which is incredible. Just the fact that everyone really cares for each other and roots for each other, I don’t think you can find that necessarily on a lot of other women’s college soccer teams.”
King will graduate with a degree in political science in December, and then plans to enter law school. But she hopes to create some more soccer memories in the next few weeks as her college career comes to a close.
She’d love to help the Bears break through for their first Final Four appearance.
“At this point we’re just focusing on the game Saturday, but that would be incredible,” King said. “It’s something as a program we’ve never been able to do before, but I think we’ve got a great shot this year. I’m really excited to see how we can get better the next couple of weeks.”