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Photo by Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Baylor Soccer

Preview: Baylor Soccer Ships out to San Francisco for Thursday Matchup

September 7, 2022

After a 1-0-1 week full of visible improvement for Baylor Soccer, Michelle Lenard and co. fly out to California for the start of a two-game West Coast swing. First, the Bears play the University of San Francisco Dons on Thursday (6 PM), then they travel up to Spokane, Wash. for a game against Gonzaga on Sunday (3 PM).

Before they could move on from their draw with Iowa, the Bears had to review the tape and make sure they knew what lessons to take with them as conference play nears.

“I thought that was a game that we let slip away,” coach Lenard said on Wednesday, “But there were a lot more positives than negatives to take away. And we'll build on that this weekend.” 

The positives are a two-game shutout streak and very bright possession play and counter-pressing against the Hawkeyes. The only missing piece was finding the back of the net.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Coaches Lenard, Sedwick Caffey, and Scales

“We felt really good about how we played against Iowa. I think that we can be better in the final third,” said Lenard. “We can be better in our decision-making down around the goal.”

So those are the takeaways for the green and gold from last week. Working on finishing and maybe some new passing patterns that should help them create and convert more quality chances in front of goal. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the close to 200-minute shutout streak is a sign that the Bears could be finding that balance of incorporating the old “over my dead body” defense into their new possession and attacking style. In fact the improvement from the start of this season to the present might well be due to the improvement in Lenard’s style.

“I think that we're doing better defensively because we're keeping the ball more,” coach stated on Wednesday.

With the team pushing more bodies forward, the defensive line has less cover and is under different kinds of stress than they were last season. Now that the team has cleaned up their possession in front of the no goal patrol, the defense surely finds its job easier and more habitual now. 

The team as a whole is more cohesive and everybody is benefitting from each player and each line doing their jobs better. All problems do not come from and are not solved by one group’s success or failure.

Pressing is a great way to see how that statement is true in-game. The Baylor press, or more specifically counter-press to win the ball back quickly after a turnover is getting into gear. Each Bear is getting very close to being right were they need to be when they need to be there in order to force turnovers and regain possession. 

“From Houston to Iowa, our press and the way that we played was just a lot better, even though it didn't come out as a win,” said Junior midfielder Blythe Obar. 

Obar has a good perspective on what a successful pressing system looks like, having played for Lenard the last two years at Dallas Baptist. While Division I competition brings a new level of athleticism, the application of the system does not change all that much.

“It's been a really good transition, I think,” said Obar on Wednesday when asked about her adjustment to both a new level and a somewhat new position: central defensive midfielder. “I've played holding mid every now and then through my career. So I kind of knew how to play the position when I was going in there. But it's definitely speed-wise a big transition from center back, but I'm enjoying it.”

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Blythe Obar vs. Iowa

So progress for each individual, whether adjusting to a new division like Obar, or to a new style of play is being made and the steps are becoming more evident. The results will hopefully follow closely, but the team is not disheartened. The coaches are giving good feedback and keeping spirits up as they stay together in the mission to make Baylor Soccer successful under Michelle Lenard and the possession-based style.

“I think going into those games and like coming out with the coaching staff telling you, 'Hey, we did great’...I think that, as a team, that grows confidence and we're like, ‘okay, we can do this’” said Obar.

In fact, coach Lenard seems happy with the implementation of her game plans to the point that she is more concerned about improving “the little things”. The initial setup, the broad strokes implementation phase is largely over for the program. 

“Yes, we've progressed. We've learned the way that we wanna play,” said Lenard, “We're very committed to that style of play. I think now is the matter of finding ways to win when we're in positions to do so. And we showed that we could put ourselves in a position to do so in five out of our six games.”

None of that is to say that scoring goals is a small thing. It’s how you win games, everyone knows that, but the team is putting themselves in great positions to convert. The offense has a plan and is improving in execution with each game. All that’s left is to start banging in goals and seeing the results.

The team knows this. It is what they are looking to make happen on this road trip.

“I think we need to win,” said freshman defender Hallie Augustyn, “Personally, I think that's what we have got to show is getting a couple Ws, but also that we win playing our style as well… that our style is good enough to beat any team.” 

Augustyn, who’s twin sister Hannah also starts in defense for the Bears, just won the Big 12 Freshman of the week award for her performances against Iowa and Houston, but she’s not content with just that.

The team’s mentality is, at least outwardly, in the right place. They are focusing on themselves, their game, and fixing the ever-shrinking issues on the field. 

“Even though we're about 500 right now at this point in the season, if we can find a way to put the ball in the net, we're gonna be in a much better position come the end of the year,” said coach Lenard on Wednesday.

And frankly, there is an opportunity to get on a roll here. Iowa and Gonzaga are both winnable games. SMU next week is no easy opponent, but the Bears are not outmatched by the Mustangs. Then Big 12 play opens and everything kicks up a notch.

“The question for me is gonna be, can we do that consistently week to week?” said coach Lenard, and if that is her main question, then there might be good reason look forward to the coming weeks of Baylor Soccer.

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Preview: Baylor Soccer Ships out to San Francisco for Thursday Matchup

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