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Baylor Soccer

Baylor Soccer: A Season Review

November 2, 2022

Now that the dust has settled on Michelle Lenard’s first season as the head coach of Baylor Soccer, let’s take a look back at the season. We will cover the most important inflection points in the season, and the best performances, and then take a look at some stats and briefly look over the roster as it heads into the offseason.

But first, a brief overall assessment.

Thorough Rebuilds Rarely Start Fast

Despite a 3rd place finish in the Big 12 in 2021 and many key returning pieces, when Michelle Lenard was hired in December last year, this became the first year of a rebuild. 

You have to call it a re-build because of the success the program had under both Marci and Paul Jobson. The construction of the team was very different to how Lenard wants to go about things, at least in the style of play and therefore the players brought in. That meant the foundation had to be reset and the rest rebuilt on top of it. 

That foundation is the style of play, the tactical intent on the field. Switching from defense first, more direct attacks with more isolated forwards to building out with possession and passing from the back, focusing on controlling the ball and doing so in the attacking half is close to a 180-degree shift in philosophy. 

A massive change like that, when combined with the unwavering commitment of Lenard to her philosophy, necessitated a good deal of additions to the roster. Lenard added six freshmen and five transfers to the class of four freshmen who signed letters of intent before Paul Jobson stepped down. That meant 15 players new to Baylor on a roster now of 34 women. 

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With 44% of the roster being new, and just 33% of the roster being players that Lenard picked to run her system, there were always going to be growing pains. There were many good returning players who would adapt well to the system like Kayley Ables, Ava Colberg, Gabby Mueller, and Elizabeth Kooiman. However, not everyone who was an integral part of the 2021 team would be able to adapt, find coach’s favor and make a difference on the field.

Couple the struggles of the coaching staff and players to transition between systems with a rash of injuries early in the year, and the team came along rather slowly and with few wins or draws.

In the end, whether due to health or it being the first year of a rebuild for both the staff and the players, it was a rough year on the field and in the standings.

The Inflection Points

The following is a list of different events that, in my opinion, changed the course of the season, for better or worse. You might also view them as peaks and valleys. 

  • Taylor Moon suffers a knee injury in the final game of the 2021 season — One of Baylor's best forwards would be unavailable all year.
  • Mackenzie Anthony suffers a knee injury in a spring exhibition — The Bears’ top scorer from 2021 (just ahead of Moon) was lost for the 2022 season after her injury against the Aggies.
  • Alyssa Navarrete, Reneta Vargas, and Morgan Greensage pick up injuries in the preseason — Navarette was the favorite to win the starting goalkeeper job before her injury cost her the season. Vargas, who would eventually return to be the leading goal scorer for Baylor, was sidelined until the second game of conference play. And Greensage, the last true center-forward on the roster to be named in the article, was sidelined until the start of Big 12 play as well.
  • Marissa Gray, an expected starter at centerback, is unable to return from an ankle injury all year — After playing through the Spring, Gray ended up missing her third full year of collegiate soccer in a row.

Just to take a quick break before we’ve even hit the first regular season game of the year... Baylor Soccer lost four starters before the season started (Moon, Anthony, Navarette and Gray) plus all four players on the roster with significant experience playing the center-forward position were out until at least halfway through the season.

  • 1-3 Loss at San Francisco (9/08) — Baylor had gotten off to an uneven 2-2-2 start. The losses were to then No. 1 North Carolina and a Wisconsin team that finished 3rd in the Big Ten. Wins against Florida and Houston were frankly expected, but after a draw against Iowa (where Baylor completely dominated the game) things were looking up for the Bears. Then they gave up a hattrick on a weird turf field on a long road trip. The subsequent game against Gonzaga was canceled due to air quality concerns, and the Bears would slide into a four-game losing streak.
  • 0-1 Loss at Texas (9/30) — This was perhaps the best game Baylor played all year. They really controlled much of the game and created over twice as many shots on goal than the eventual Big 12 champions (9-4 SOG). Sadly, they could not convert, and a moment of individual brilliance from the conference’s leading scorer and offensive PotY, Trinity Byars, was the difference. The Bears would continue their good form in their next match versus Kansas, but this was most likely the best 90 minutes the team played all year.
  • 1-2 Loss to Kansas State (10/09) — After a thrilling late comeback win against Kansas the Thursday before, this was a brutal Sunday setback. Even with Reneta Vargas back healthy and scoring, the Bears could not get the necessary result (win or draw). A penalty called on Baylor with 18 seconds left in the game gifted the Wildcats the win. While coaches and players both admitted that they should never have put themselves in that situation, the win gave Kansas State the three points they needed to beat Baylor out for 8th place at the end of the year. This head-to-head result is the simplest way to see how Baylor could have made the conference tournament but did not. 
  • 1-3 Loss at West Virginia (10/16) — After a bounce-back 3-2 win at Iowa State, the Bears still had four chances to secure three more points that would, in hindsight, have seen them through to Round Rock. However, this trip to Morgantown left the Bears looking out of gas and exposed as a team without attacking answers. Ashley Merrill’s first-half goal would be the last score for the Bears all year. This was the start of a three-game stretch where the Bears only mustered 12 total shots. 
    Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365


Top Individual Performers

  • Ashley Merrill — Points Leader: With four goals and two assists, Merrill was the focal point of the Baylor attack for much of the year. Often times she was the only Bear with that killer instinct and when she was not converting chances, things seemed rather bleak.
  • Reneta Vargas — Leading Scorer: Returning from injury for the last eight games of the year, Vargas quickly jumped past Merrill for the title of leading scorer. Vargas netted a brace (two-goals) twice in three games, scoring all five of her goals in the three-game stretch of Kansas, Kasnas State, and at Iowa State.
  • Kayley Ables — Minutes Leader: As always, Ables was a defensive Stalwart for the green and gold. She bossed the defense and did her best to get an overall young and inexperienced defensive line into the right positions and mindset. Not really a high note for her to end her career on, but she is what good college athletic programs are all about. Great player, and by all accounts great person.
  • Elizabeth Kooiman — Shot Creator: The senior forward had the second most shots on the team (21) and the highest shots-on-goal percentage of anyone with more than ten shots for the year at .571. She only netted one goal, but she created for others and had multiple games where she was the main threat, taking pressure off of Merrill and Vargas.
  • Hannah and Hallie Augustyn — Standout Freshmen: These two were very important additions to the team. They played with poise not typical of freshmen and helped cover for the loss of Sarah Norman to graduation and Marissa Gray to injury. 

Notable Stats

This section will be rather negative. I provided a good deal of context for these stats in the first section of the article and would suggest you keep those factors and the overall rebuild in mind as you look at the team statistics.

  • At 4-11-2, this Baylor team finished with the second-worst record and second-worst winning percentage (.235) in program history (2005, 4-12-2, 0.222)
  • The 2022 team tied for the fewest wins in a single season in program history at 4
  • The 2022 Bears had the third-worst conference season in program history earning just 0.67 points per game (3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw) with a 2-7-0 record. Only 2006 and 2008 were worse Big 12 slates for Baylor with 1-8-1 and 1-7-1 records respectively.
  • This was the eighth time the Bears finished 9th or worse in the conference, and the third time the Bears finished exactly 9th. The last time the Bears finished 9th was 2010, and the last time they finished 10th was 2008. 
  • The 2022 Bears finished with the worst goal differential in program history (-16) the joint fewest goals for (15 goals, shared with 2006) and the 7th most goals against (31).
  • Nationally, the Bears finished tied for 263rd in goals scored per game with .88 and tied for 284th with 1.82 goals against average. 

Note: Marci Jobson started as head coach in 2008, so don’t take one rough year too heavily.

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Roster Review

As of the final game of the 2022 season:

  • Seniors (7) — Kayley Ables has definitely used up all of her eligibility. There was some chatter amongst the seniors on Senior Night that only Kayley had used up her eligibility, but I believe Maddie Algya and Alyssa Navarrete have both used all of theirs as well. Elizabeth Kooiman and Marissa Gray both have COVID years of eligibility that they could choose to use. Gray will have extra health considerations as well. Taylor Moon could get a medical redshirt for this past season and could return for a sixth too. Jenna Patterson, one of the three DBU transfers, should return and play well on the wing.
    • 1 Goalkeeper gone
    • 1 Defender gone, 1 still TBD
    • 1 Midfielder gone
    • 3 Forwards: 2 would could return or could move on, Patterson should be returning
  • Juniors (10) — Ashley Merrill was the standout from this group with 4 goals and 2 assists to tie for the team lead in points with ten. Obar was a solid starter at central defensive midfield all year and Mueller saw a very good amount of minutes and starts filling in that third midfield spot. That is a great group to have stepping up as seniors for next year, plus some solid substitutes in Olivia Mack and Sarah Hornyak. Lauren Traywick and Madison Martin battle for the starting keeper position all year, but expect more competition to be brought in for next year. Mackenzie Anthony returning to the field for the Bears could be huge next year.
    • 2 Goalkeepers: Martin and Traywick
    • 1 Defender: Hornyak (she can play all over the field)
    • 4 Midfielders: Merrill, Obar, Mueller, Kouns
    • 3 Forwards: Anthony, Brown, and Mack
  • Sophomores (7) — Three members of this class played at least somewhat consistently in 2022. Ava Colberg was a starter in every game for the Bears, while Micah Beasley and Haven Terry were attacking substitutions in most games. Zimmerman was a great candidate to help replace Kayley Ables next year, but she suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the final game of the year. Lorelai Stramrood had just three appearances and Sophie Wilson and Jordan Ryan did not play this year.
    • 3 Defenders: Colberg, Zimmerman, and Stramrood
    • 1 Midfielder: Beasley
    • 3 Forwards: Terry, Wilson, and Ryan
  • Freshmen (10) — The Augustyn twins were important additions by Michelle Lenard to the freshmen class, especially with the pair starting all but one game together. Skye Leach saw a decent bit of time in the midfield as a sub, while Reneta Vargas became the Bears’ leading goal-scorer despite playing just under half of the season. Edgerton, Finey, Fredell and Greensage all saw limited time as subs as well. The goalkeeper development from Ciboroswki and Zirkel will be interesting to track. 
    • 2 Goalkeepers: Ciborowski and Zirkel
    • 2 Defenders: Hallie and Hannah Augustyn
    • 2 Midfielders: Leach and Edgerton
    • 4 Forwards: Finney, Fredell, Greensage and Vargas

Even if all seniors from this year leave, that puts the roster at 28 players before a freshman class or transfers sign. Expect attrition. Expect some players to transfer out, especially players recruited by Paul Jobson. That is the nature of coaching changes in college athletics. In fact, it would not be surprising if some players are already in the transfer portal. 

   Fresh.   Soph.   Junior   Senior 

 Total (After Attrition Estimate) 

Goalkeeper 2   2 1 5 (4)
Defender 2 3 1 2 8 (5)
Midfielder 2 1 4 1 8 (6)
Forward 4 3 3 3 13 (10)
Total 10 7 10 7 34 (25)

None of the numbers above are meant to say that any player will or should transfer. They are estimates based on numbers in position groups and the limited playing time to go around. With 24 or 25 players returning, that leaves room for a class of seven or so players that coach Lenard can bring in between freshmen and transfers, though she could load the roster back up to 34 or 35. There is no hard roster cap for women’s college soccer I believe.

I’d expect some new competition at all positions, but especially at goalkeeper. Defense could use some more depth, but I’m sure no position group will get left alone. 

Final Thoughts

I said it at the start: the combination of a drastic change in style, a hard commitment to that style (not tactical inflexibility though), a great deal of roster change, a very demanding schedule, and a rash of injuries were far too much to overcome for the 2022 Baylor Soccer team. 

I feel for the players who suffered season-ending injuries before the season had really started. I feel for the seniors who will leave the program on a down note after successful careers that included the 2018 Big 12 title. 

But the program must continue moving forward. 

And there were, despite the circumstances, some promising signs for Michelle Lenard and the Bears. 

Texas did not lose a conference game this year. Baylor truly should have beaten them. With a roster better suited to the style of play they attempt, Baylor should be able to beat anyone in the Big 12 in the near future. 

It is easy to see the non-conference record improve with a little softer schedule and a healthier team with a full year of experience running the possession based system. 

Given the adversity that this program saw in 2022, there is reason to be optimistic for 2023.

Check back in through the offseason for notes on recruiting and transfers!

Until the spring exhibition season...

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Baylor Soccer: A Season Review

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