Oct. 14, 2011
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Sitting Lisa Sliwinski on the bench is like caging a wild animal. You're asking for trouble.
But after sitting out three months this summer following arthroscopic surgery on her left knee, the junior midfielder from Plano, Texas, was getting splinters in all the wrong places. Through the first 11 games, she was averaging 25.9 minutes per game and had just one goal to show for 14 shots.
"With every long injury that I've had throughout my career, it's always been hard to keep my morale up," said Sliwinski, who came into the season tied for ninth all-time with 11 career goals, "just because soccer is so much of a stress reliever, outlet of emotions, all kinds of stuff, for me. And then also, I'm just a very competitive person and I want to be on the field making a difference.
"Just sitting there on the sidelines, twiddling my thumbs, was rough. I just had to swallow my pride and contribute however I could to help the team."
While freshmen Natalie Huggins, Alexa Wilde and Justine Hovden carried most of the scoring load early on, Sliwinski was getting a few minutes here and there and filling in only as needed.
"When Lisa gets down, she doesn't get lazy, but she just kind of gets frozen," said Baylor coach Marci Jobson. "So we had to tell her, `Hey, you're down right now, and there's only one way out of a hole. That's just grit and grind and climb your way out of it.' And she did that. We kept telling her that if you're sharp in practice, it's going to pay off in the games. Now it's paying off, and I think she's seeing that."
Sliwinski's long-awaited pay day came this weekend. The junior forward/midfielder combined for three goals as Baylor (11-2-2, 3-1-1) picked up conference road wins at Kansas and Iowa State and vaulted to 24th in the NCAA RPI rankings that were released Wednesday.
"This weekend was awesome, just for the morale of the team," said Sliwinski, who's suddenly second on the team in both goals scored (4) and points (9). "Just the confidence we've gained from this weekend and knowing this is the best team since I've been here. It's exciting, not in the sense of looking ahead, but just knowing that we can battle with anybody, we can compete with anybody. We definitely have the tools. It's just about coming out with the right mentality and heart. And I don't know of a team that has as much fight as the girls in that room."
For Sliwinski, the frustration began before the season. The recovery time from her scope surgery was expected to take 6-8 weeks. But when it took three months, it wiped out her summer and left her rusty coming into the August training camp.
"Sitting still for three months, you lose everything," she said. "So the preseason was rough for me. Ironically enough, my fitness was fine. I came in and passed the fitness test with everybody. But as far as my touch on the ball, my soccer smarts had kind of dimmed through the summer."
Her only mark through the first month of the season came in a 3-0 win at Louisville, when Sliwinski headed in a goal off a long free kick by Hannah Dismuke.
"I'm just a big, strong girl," said Sliwinski, explaining her success on headers, "and that translates well into winning those battles in the air."
The breakthrough started three weeks ago, when Sliwinski made her first and only start to date in a Sunday game against Weber State. Just 45 seconds into the overtime, she worked the ball down the left side of the field and chipped it over the keeper into the center of the box for a wide-open shot by Karlee Summey as the Bears pulled out a 1-0 win.
"We needed that hunger, that edge to score," Sliwinski said of a game the Bears dominated in shots, 20-1. "And I think finally we were like, `All right, I'm fed up with this, let's put it away.'''
Against Kansas, Sliwinski broke a scoreless tie in the 36th minute when she headed in a goal off another free kick from Dismuke. And then she put it away with an unassisted goal from 18 yards out to put the Bears on top, 3-0, in the 72nd minute.
"It was just a bizarre goal. I wouldn't even call it a breakaway," she said. "I won the ball from a girl in the middle. And it was just bizarre. I was dribbling toward the goal, and nobody was stepping to me. So I was like, `I guess I'll keep going.' It was a decent shot, but the buildup was just weird."
On Sunday, Hovden penetrated and dished it to Sliwinski, who booted in the game's first goal from 10 yards out as Baylor avenged last year's loss with a 1-0 victory over the Cyclones.
"I know a couple of the girls had Iowa State - those words - written on the mirrors in their bathroom since that game last year," said Sliwinski, who earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, along with SOCCERSavings.com/Dallas Soccer News College Player of the Week. "And they thought about it every day, every time they woke up in the morning. When it came down to it, that's what kept us out of a lot of stuff last year. It just reminded us that you can't afford to make those kinds of mistakes. In the Big 12, you're not going to have an easy game. You have to treat every game like it's for the Big 12 championship."