By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Left out of the field a year ago, Baylor soccer (13-5-2) is not only back in the Big Dance for the first time in five years, the Bears were selected as one of 32 host sites for the first round of the NCAA Championship.
Fresh off a Big 12 Championship title, Baylor will face Rice (12-3-2) at 7 p.m. Friday at Betty Lou Mays Field, with the winner advancing to face either third-seeded USC (14-3-1) or Eastern Washington (16-5-1). It's the Bears' fifth overall NCAA appearance and fourth time to host a first-round game.
"It's exciting to bring it back to Betty Lou," said junior All-Big 12 midfielder Julie James. "We thought we were done playing at Betty Lou. So, to get one more chance there, it's going to be really fun."
With the run at the Big 12 Championship that included wins over 14th-ranked Texas and No. 16 Oklahoma State before a 2-1 overtime victory over TCU in Sunday's final, Baylor improved its RPI ranking from 55th to 34th, two spots ahead of Rice.
"Every match we've played this year has been a championship match, so we're not going to change anything that we're doing at this point," head coach Paul Jobson said. "Just keep doing what we do, and I think we can be successful with that. We're not happy just being here. We want to take this thing all the way to the national championship. Why play the game if that's not your goal?"
After their "redemption tour" at the Big 12 tournament - avenging three regular-season overtime losses - the Bears get another rematch of an Aug. 24 game with Rice that ended in a scoreless draw. Like so many of its other games, Baylor dominated in shots (18-11) and shots on goal (8-4).
"This whole past weekend at the Big 12 Championship was revenge week," said senior All-Big 12 defender Precious Akanyirige, who was also named to the all-tournament team with James, Sarah King, Lauren Piercy and MVP Aline De Lima. "Same thing with Rice. I felt like that game got away from us, so it's going to be awesome to have another chance at it."
Led by seventh-year head coach Nicky Adams, the Owls had their school-record 11-game unbeaten streak snapped with a 1-0 loss to eighth-seeded Charlotte in the opening round of the Conference USA tournament last Wednesday. They are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years and the fourth time overall.
"They've been a quality team for a number of years," Jobson said. "Nicky's done a great job there, and they always play us really, really well. So, it's going to be a great first-round match."
Baylor is in a regional bracket that includes top-seeded Duke, fourth-seeded Texas and Oklahoma State in the top half. If seeds hold in the bottom half of the bracket, Baylor would advance to College Station next weekend for a matchup against third-seeded USC and No. 2 seed Texas A&M (17-2-1) would square off against traditional power Notre Dame (9-6-4).
"We're definitely a team of competitors, and we're not satisfied with just getting in," Akanyirige said. "Obviously, everyone wants to go for the national championship, and that's what we're going for."
For ticket information for Friday's game, go to www.baylorbears.com/tickets or call the Baylor Athletics Ticket Office at 254-710-1000.
WACO, Texas - Baylor soccer (13-5-2, 4-4-1 Big 12) knew it had a spot in the NCAA Tournament field, securing the Big 12's automatic qualifying rights as the conference tournament champions. But the squad was given an additional reward, earning the right to stay at home and host the Rice Owls (12-3-2) on Friday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. at Betty Lou Mays Soccer Field.
BU earns the program's fifth NCAA bid, getting the right to host the opening round in Waco for the fourth time. The Bears got the program's first bid since 2012 and is hosting for the first time since 2011.
Baylor is fresh off a 3-0 sweep of the Big 12 Soccer Championship, earning the program's second tournament title with wins over No. 14 Texas, No. 16 Oklahoma State, and TCU, all teams that had defeated the BU squad in the regular season.
Rice was another regular season misstep for the Bears, with BU drawing 0-0 in double overtime in Houston on Aug. 24. The Owls provide the Baylor squad with another opportunity to redeem a missed opportunity, opening NCAA play on Friday.
Baylor is paired for the second round with the winner of No. 3 Southern California (14-3-1) and Eastern Washington (16-5-1). The winner would go on to face the advancing team from the College Station site, either No. 2 Texas A&M (17-2-1) or Lamar (18-3-1), and the South Bend site, Notre Dame (9-6-4) or IUPUI (14-5-3).