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Baylor Soccer

Preview: Baylor Soccer Finishes Three Game Road Swing at Houston

September 1, 2022
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Last weekend saw high highs and low lows for a Baylor team that is still working its way toward finding its identity. With a game against Houston tonight at 7 PM (streaming on ESPN+) Michelle Lenard and her players are looking to take the next step on their journey towards that goal. 

The stated goals are scoring goals and having fun doing it, all while not losing that defensive strength that has been Baylor’s calling card for years. The prerequisites for putting the ball in the back of the net, at least in this system include the following:

  • Maintaining organized possession
  • Progressing that possession into attacking zones
  • Creating goal-scoring opportunities (think incisive passing and threatening runs)
  • Getting bodies into the box to finish those chances
  • Actually finishing the chances at a high rate

“We are starting to get the ball in the box more,” said coach Lenard on Wednesday, “We're now starting to get more bodies in the box, but we need to be finishing at a higher rate now as well. So it's coming together piece by piece.”

Note: Lenard did not break down her philosophy into those steps. Those are my thoughts and words and I’m sure Lenard would make plenty of tweaks to that list.

While the defeat to North Carolina had a very disheartening score, the green and gold did stress the UNC defense fairly well. Baylor committed to playing coach Lenard’s style instead of trying to play for a nicer score line. Against a team who was not No. 1 in the nation, the Bears have been starting to show more success.

“If we stay committed to the game plan, and continue to create chances, we're eventually going to score goals,” Lenard said. “We have got to be a little bit sharper in a few other moments because good opponents… are going to find ways to create chances and we need to be disciplined. But that [Florida win] is definitely something that we can build off of and shows that the game model that we have in place is effective.”

Part of the offensive end coming along is cohesion. Ashley Merrill, who followed Michelle Lenard from Dallas Baptist, knows the system well and can speak to the progression of the team.

“Michelle coming in is playing a completely different style from what nine or eight out of 11 girls on the field were playing,” said Merrill, “So we're all kind of trying to mesh together... we all have to be on the same page.” 

She did note that there is a slight personal advantage to her previous experience with Lenard and, in my opinion, that is why she has been one of the brightest attackers for the green and gold so far this season. However, team success is what they are all striving for. They want to win with this system.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365

“It's still new. I think we need to buy into it, and just finish our chances because I think we're creating opportunities,” said junior midfielder Gabby Mueller. “So it's just that next step.”

Mueller is right up there with Merrill as a promising attacker so far in 2022. Baylor’s No. 7 scored the winner a week ago against Florida and adds a certain dynamism to the midfield with her short area ball control.

Those skills and her production last week earned Mueller an honorable mention on Top Drawer Soccer’s women’s national team of the week. Though she quickly downplayed the recognition. 

“Personally the recognitions don't mean a whole ton to me. I appreciate it. And I think it's super cool, but that's not what I'm striving for.”

The team is striving for wins, and they need to tighten some things up defensively to start earning more of those. Particularly, coach Lenard pointed to their pressing.

“I think we need to be more organized in our press. That's something that we're continuing to work on that hasn't quite clicked yet. It's showing up in bits and pieces… we need to be consistently capable of doing that over 90 minutes.”

Against Houston tonight, with a well-organized press, Baylor has every chance of hemming the Cougars in and creating many, many quality chances. 

Coach Lenard expects Houston to play a 3-5-2 formation and be “somewhat direct once they get the ball wide”. Good pressing should disrupt the direct balls in to the Cougars’ forwards and make easier work for the no goal patrol. 

The future conference foe appears to be on Baylor’s level and is a good opportunity for a win. Houston is currently 1-1-1, beating Sam Houston State 2-1, tying Oklahoma 1-1, and losing 3-0 to Lamar.

The Cougars were picked to finish 5th in the American Conference and the Sooners were tabbed 6th in the Big 12 if preseason coaches polls help bring things into better focus for you. Note, both teams received a single first-place vote in those polls.

Looking at the Bears once again, Lauren Traywick will start in goal per coach Lenard, but she is not guaranteed the full 90 minutes. Part of the Bears' identity search includes open competition at all positions. Today that will come in the form of at least a couple of new starters, though coach did not specify whom. 

In the coming weeks (two or three) we should start seeing some players return from injury and boost the depth of the squad. 

The Bottom Line: Buy-in and cohesion are what I’m looking for. When the players start knowing where to be and trusting each other to do their job in the system at a high level, things will start clicking. I think they can take that next step tonight and hopefully come away with a win.

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Preview: Baylor Soccer Finishes Three Game Road Swing at Houston

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