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Baylor Soccer

Breaking Down Big 12 Soccer's New Members

May 11, 2023

While football and basketball have garnered the most attention from Big 12 fans anticipating the addition of new members for the 2023-24 seasons, Soccer is also adding all four new schools, including a true powerhouse program in BYU.

Each of these new schools brings something unique to the table, but overall they also continue a stylistic shift for the Big 12 conference.

Let’s start with the biggest addition: BYU.

The Cougars come in with 23 NCAA Tournament appearances in the 28 years of the program. Their only ever head coach Jennifer Rockwood has led the Cougars to three Elite Eights and a National Championship game appearance that they lost to Florida State in 2021. 

BYU Soccer is elite and they come from a conference (the West Coast Conference) that constantly sends teams deep in the tournament. Santa Clara won the National Championship in the 2020-21 COVID-affected season, for example.

BYU Athletics

“BYU is a great addition,” says Baylor Soccer head coach Michelle Lenard, “They want to play and they're going to raise the level of the conference.”

What she means when she says “want to play” is that they bring the game to their opponents. They attack. And that is a style that is gaining a lot of traction in the Big 12 these days.

Lenard brought her possession-based attacking style to Baylor to make just that shift from a more compact defensive style. 

“UCF as well, historically, really likes to build and play and keep the ball,” added Lenard.

The Knights are also coming into the Big 12 with some heat. Aside from the front-foot style of play, UCF won the American Athletic Conference regular season championship last season. That makes three AAC regular season championships in the last seven seasons for the program, to go along with four NCAA Tournament appearances. 

Houston has not had the same success during their time in the American, but they find themselves in a very similar situation to the Baylor Bears. Last season was the first for head coach Jaime Frias as he brought a style to Houston that is similar to what Lenard introduced to Baylor last year.

Historically, the Cougars struggled in the AAC outside of the 2021 season in which they finished second. Meanwhile, the final addition to the Big 12 typically fared better in the same conference. The Cincinnati Bearcats look to be a more cyclical, have a low finish once every three or four years before building to finished in the upper half of the conference for the next two or three years.

Cincinnati is coming off of a third place finish in the American in 2022, with a 7-3-7 overall record. It’s nothing spectacular and with a new coach as of December 7th, 2022, the Bearcats will have a lot to prove coming into the Big 12.

Cincinnati Athletics

Conference Strength and Scheduling

With BYU and UCF adding NCAA Tournament caliber programs to the conference, and three of the four new members clearly coming in with open and attacking styles of play, it makes sense to look at where the Big 12 stands nationally.

Over the last two years, the Big 12 has earned only five NCAA Tournament bids spread among three of the ten programs. TCU, West Virginia and Texas have been leading the conference. While two years does not make a decisive trend, the conference will surely be looking for more appearances and deeper run in the tournament to show that league is strong and competitive with some of the top leagues.

That is where the style of play comes in. While it is re-proven every year that success can be found with any style, the majority of the best teams look to play open and attacking with possession. 

Baylor’s games against Texas and North Carolin last year are great examples of that. And Michelle Lenard was able to offer some insight on how the style shift for Baylor has been received through the league:

“We've had nothing but positive feedback, even from the other teams in the conference about the way that we're playing. And I think the big 12 In general, if we want to be competitive with the other power fives, needs to see that a little bit more.”

The other way that the Big 12, and Baylor Soccer in particular, can work to earn more postseason bids is non-conference play.

Scheduling tough, but winnable games is key. 

Last year for the Bears, the competition level was extremely high. A lot of games on the road, a lot of physical opponents that frankly were favored over Baylor. 

Craig Bisacre/Texas A&M Athletics

For the 2023 season, Lenard has prepared what she considers a “more balanced” schedule with a particularly tough start before settling in.

The three non-conference matchups she shared were at Oregon, at Nebraska, and at Texas A&M. Back-to-back-to-back to start the year.

The Bears played each of these teams back in 2021, losing to the Aggies (preseason) and the Cornhuskers but drawing with Oregon.

The Texas A&M game is a particularly exciting opportunity and Lenard made sure to highlight it.

“There's a fish camp weekend and a local youth tournament. So we do expect a sold out crowd of probably 4000 or more. So that should be really great experience for our team. We're really excited for it.”

The full Baylor Soccer schedule is expected to release next Monday, May 15th. After the full release, I will break down the whole thing and highlight some of the most important matchups. So until then, stay tuned for more Baylor Soccer coverage!

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Breaking Down Big 12 Soccer's New Members

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