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Baylor Soccer

Spring Check-In: Michelle Lenard Getting Baylor Soccer Closer to Her Target

May 5, 2023
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Baylor Soccer just wrapped up its second spring under head coach Michelle Lenard. The team is looking to turn the page on a rough 2022 season with lots of new faces and a greater comfort level with Coach Lenard’s system, the culture, and each other.

The Bears scored goals in five of six exhibition games this spring, a marked improvement from last fall. Their competition included Navarro College, Lamar, Texas A&M, Texas State, Texas Tech and Seminole State College. 

According to Coach Lenard, they scored against the Aggies and the Bobcats, as well as netting two against the Red Raiders and seven against Seminole State while being held scoreless just once in a 0-0 draw. The offense is working better and goals are being scored at a higher clip. 

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Ashley Merrill (17) rises for a header against Oklahoma State in the season finale.

“We've been playing very well across the board,” Coach Lenard said after a doubleheader with Texas Tech and Seminole State on April 22nd, “We've made improvements in several positions, added depth, and the team is feeling great. The chemistry is really positive right now. Pretty big difference from six months ago, just in how everything's feeling and moving in the right direction. We're excited.”

The excitement came across in a rather calm way from Lenard. The head coach seemed more relaxed and at home, less stressed now that she is not an outsider coming in to replace a coach who had been at Baylor for 14 years in Paul Jobson.

“This spring has been really enjoyable. Last spring was just crazy. I was commuting, and we were all trying to get to know each other… I feel like we got all the hard stuff out of the way in year one. And we've really put ourselves in a good position moving into year two.”

The hard stuff included a 4-11-2 record, the worst goal differential in program history (-16), and missing the Big 12 tournament for the first time since 2010. More personal things like new jobs and moves for the staff, or playing for coaches you didn’t commit to out of high school for the players all factored into the above statistics and surely weighed on everyone in the program throughout the season. But hardships can often offer great lessons.

“There's a lot of things that we learned along the way,” said Coach Lenard, “Some things that we had been successful with in the past that maybe weren't going to work here. We needed to adapt to the Big 12, we needed to adapt to the players we had on this team. And then in some cases, we needed to just add some new faces that could bring some of the things that we were looking for.” 

The jump from Division II to Division I. The 180-degree turn from defensive, direct play to possession-based attack. There can be a shock for all involved that comes with such big changes, a shock that simply takes time to overcome.

Some adapt faster, some never really adapt. In sports that means, roster turnover. For new coaches, this can be a boon. It presents opportunities to bring in players that better fit their culture and their style of play. This spring, the Bears’ roster consisted of 19 first-year players (including transfers and early enrollees for the spring semester), four second-year players, and two third-year players. First-year players meaning that it is the student-athlete’s first year at Baylor, etc.

One of those third-year players has already announced a grad transfer to another Big 12 school, and Coach Lenard said that a little more attrition could be possible. However, there is a class of 11 players joining Baylor in the fall to bolster the roster. Overall, Lenard is feeling very positive about the direction of her program through the tough first season and all the roster turnover.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Sarah Hornyak (2) is the third-year player grad transferring to Texas after the Spring.

“Honestly, it just feels a lot better [this spring]. We're a lot more settled, we've established the way we want to play, we've gone through that first hard year of ‘What works? What doesn’t? Players that want to be here, that don't want to be here’ and all that.”

“I think for various reasons, that are totally legitimate, sometimes it's a fit, and sometimes it's not when you have a change in staff.” 

Fit should not be underrated. Young soccer stars like Jadon Sancho (Manchester United) have flamed out after moving to new clubs. Armando Bacot or Hunter Dickinson would likely not work out at Baylor Basketball because they don’t appear to fit the culture. Kobe Bryant would probably not fit with the prime Golden State Warriors. 

The friction on and off the field or court when a fit is bad has ripple effects everywhere throughout an organization. So taking steps to make each individual staying with the program feel like they fit is paramount. Michelle Lenard seems to be on her way toward making that happen via growing and improving relationships. 

“I think that what I believed when I got here is true still — and maybe we didn't do the best job of it last year, but we've done a great job of that this spring — and that is everything starts with relationships. And this spring, we're more present because we're not commuting and the staff is all settled in. So we've been able to spend a lot more time with our team and our team has been able to spend a lot more time with each other.” 

“The relationships are stronger and that means when things do get hard — we have a hard practice or we have to come down on someone — it doesn't go as negatively and people handle it better. And the team is able to hold each other to a higher standard and a higher accountability. All that really comes from relationships. And some of that just takes time.”

Now, 17 months after taking the job, Coach Lenard has been able to invest the time to hopefully have her program back in the thick of the Big 12 and back in the Big 12 tournament come November. 

Some impact transfers will surely help the Bears navigate an expanded conference, but those are two topics for future articles. So stay tuned for more Baylor Soccer coverage!

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Spring Check-In: Michelle Lenard Getting Baylor Soccer Closer to Her Target

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