Preseason camp is underway for the Bears, which means that soccer is almost here! In a word, the season can be described as "new". With the brand-new Williams Family Soccer Building recently opening and a total of fifteen players (about half the team) joining the program from last fall, there are plenty of things to be excited about. The new building provides the team with a new locker room, a massive ice tub, and meeting space for team meetings. Click that link to see the tour and the neat little closet they have for their soccer cleats.
Another new thing to the program: Coach Marci Jobson has stepped down from her co-head coaching role to be an assistant coach, leaving her husband Paul Jobson to be the lone head coach.
While fancy new buildings are nice, they can't actually play soccer. For that, there has to be players. Let's introduce the players who will be taking the pitch in green and white this fall.
Yes, it is goalkeeper(s), not goalie. Goalies play hockey. Anyway, with the loss of long-time starter Michelle Kloss to graduation, the goalkeeper position has been left with large boots to fill. Kloss was one of the best keepers in the Big 12 over the past few years and was instrumental in carrying out the #DefenseU mindset that is so much a part of this team. Presumptive starter Sara Martinson, a junior out of Southlake, played in five games last year (202:52 minutes) without allowing a goal. Although she only started one game, it is hard to ignore a keeper who did not allow a goal in 200 minutes.
Two new keepers to the program are Rebecca Gartner, a redshirt freshman transfer from UCF, and Hannah Parrish, a true freshman from Neuqua Valley HS in Naperville, Illinois. Gartner earned some good minutes in the spring, so she could challenge for the starting spot. We'll likely know more on Monday.
It would not be #DefenseU without a solid back line, now would it? Baylor lost zero defenders to graduation, so the back line will be made up entirely of experienced starters. They are going to be good. Real good.
The seniors who will lead the defense are Hadley Young, Katie Daigle (both played all 20 games in 2014), and McKenna Martin (started in seven games and played in 19 in 2014). Freshman phenom Precious Akanyirige also saw significant minutes en-route to making the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team last season. Also seeing significant playing time last season were then-sophomores Lindsay Burns (started all 20 minutes and saw 1,732 minutes of play) and Emory Cason (started all 20 games and logged a whopping 1,819 minutes).
As of right now, I'd put the starting four as Young, Taylor Swift-lover Daigle, Burns, and Cason.
A slew of younger players will be out competing for playing time this season as well. Sophomores Tatyanna Lewis (461 minutes in 20 games, one start) and Lauren O'Connell (67 minutes over four games, one goal) will look to build on their freshman season while newcomers Kylie Ross (McKinney Boyd HS, McKinney), Cierra Bryant (Blue Valley Northwest HS, Overland Park, Kansas), Haley Foster (Highlands Ranch HS, Highlands Ranch, Colorado), and Megan Kostolansky (Glenbard West HS, Len Ellyn, Illinois) will look to acclimate themselves to the collegiate game in their first season with the Bears. The latter two freshman might slot in at midfield as well.
Overall, I expect the defense to be the strongest part of the team as it has been for the past couple of years. Coach Jobson knows how to put together a defense.
Great midfielders can turn an average team into a stellar team. They are all over the pitch and are generally the players who have the most time on the ball. As such, losing two to graduation is never something that is a team would want to happen. Nonetheless, Alexa Wilde and Anja Rosales have earned their degrees and it is time for a new crop of players to step up in their place.
Ashley York, a junior who played and started in 16 games last year netted four goals and 1,106 minutes before tearing her ACL against Oklahoma. Look for her to be back and in a starting role. The other two/three (Baylor usually runs a 4-3-3, which would have three midfielders) midfield starting positions are a bit up in the air. Sophomores Katie Milberger and Delanie Davis and juniors Bridget Hamway and Ashleigh James saw decent minutes last year (319, 150, 177, and 96, respectively). I would expect these four players to greatly increase their playing time this year, but I honestly couldn't tell you who will get the starting spots.
With such uncertainty surrounding the midfield, it is entirely possible that one of the many incoming freshman could make a name for herself early on and see significant minutes. Sarah King, a 5-11 player out of Coppell HS could well replace the aerial threat that was provided by Alexa Wilde. Her brother, Charles, is going to TCU as a pitcher though (boo, hiss...). Julie James hails from KcKinney Christian Academy and , Texas. She is a speedy player, having earned numerous track medals in high school. I would expect her to play out as a winger so that she could use her speed to her advantage. Kennedy Brown, a 5-5 midfielder out of Kingwood HS in Kingwood, Texas. I do not know much about her playing style, but I know she's pretty great at Twitter.
The midfield has a ton of questions going in to the start of the season. However, with all of the talent at Coach Jobson's disposal, I am confident that he can put together a quality unit.
Justine Hovden and Natalie Huggins, two huge contributors on the wings last year, have graduated. While their production will be sorely missed, Mexican national team participant Bri Campos is returning for her senior season. She netted six goals last season and earned All-Big 12 second team honors while starting all 20 games. Having totaled 1,600+ minutes in each of her three seasons at Baylor, it would be no surprise to see her play significant minutes again this year as she leads a young group of forwards.
The only other upperclassman, Marissa Sullivan, a junior transfer from High Point University, played in 15 games last year. Five freshman will be joining the team this year. Jackie Crowther (Linfield Christian HS, Temecula, California) played for the Mexican National Soccer Team in the U17 World Cup in 2013 and ran track and cross country in high school. Amanda Hoglund played for Richmond Burton HS in Spring Grove, Illinois (there are a lot of Illinoisians on this team). Ariel Leach, a 5-5 forward from Flower Mound HS, where she earned numerous honors, including being named team captain in 2014. Ashanti Carey is a goal-scoring machine. The Pattonville HS (Bridgeton, Missouri) product set her school's single-season goals record as a freshman with 22 goals and 10 assists. She then promptly broke that record as a sophomore with 30 goals and nine assists. Finally, out of Randall HS in Amarillo, is Lauren Piercy. The 5-2 forward is quick and likes to score goals. She ran sprints and hurdles in track and played guard on her district champion basketball team. From her freshman to her junior year in high school she scored 66 goals (!).
With so many players new to the program, it is difficult to tell how well exactly the forwards will do this year. That being said, there is a massive amount of potential with this group and I am really excited to see what Campos and company can do this year. If they gel quickly, this group could score many, many goals.
Baylor finished seventh in the Big 12 last year with a conference record of 2-5-1. However, they had some huge pre-conference wins, which brought their overall record to 9-8-1. This year, the Bears will be looking to improve on their conference record, while maintaining the good out-of-conference results.
The season begins this Monday (August 10th) with an exhibition against Samford at 6:00 here in Waco. Following that, the team will play another exhibition game on Saturday (August 15th, 6:00) against Abilene Christian before beginning their season versus USF on August 21st.
The out-of-conference slate should provide a solid test for the Bears. They face USF (22nd at the end of last year) and Michigan State at home before traveling to Indiana to face Purdue and Indiana. The road trip continues against Sam Houston State and Incarnate Word before the Bears finally return home for the Baylor Tournament (Baylor, NIU, UTSA, and Louisana-Lafayette). Throw in a trip to Colorado for matches against Air Force and Colorado College and the out-of-conference play will be over before you know it.
The Bears have a tough OOC schedule with so many away games, but the four home games should allow the young team to find their identity before heading off on the road.
Big 12 play begins against the team they upset in the Big 12 Tournament last year, Oklahoma State. The Cowgirls will be coming to Waco for that match. Overall, the Bears Big 12 schedule is pretty favorable. Three of the teams that finished in the top four in the Big 12 last year have to come to Waco to play and the Bears only have to fly to Ames and Lawrence (Austin and Fort Worth are pretty close).
I think the schedule is in the Bears' favor this year and if they can get off on the right foot with all of the new players, this team could be really special. I am excited and you should be too.