An Elite Finish

An Elite Finish

A filmmaker hoping to create a stirring soccer movie that would get fans cheering needs look no further than the 2017 Baylor soccer team for inspiration. Even by Hollywood standards, the moments that defined the Bears’ postseason run and propelled them to the best finish in program history seem a bit improbable.

“This team had a special bond and a never-say-die mentality,” head coach Paul Jobson said. “When it came down to it, they didn’t want to let each other down. We learned some tough lessons against some really good teams in the regular season, which set us up well later on.”

Baylor’s recipe for big-screen drama started with a series of heartbreaking defeats—the Bears’ five regular season losses all came by one goal, four of them in overtime. Those narrow losses dropped Baylor’s regular season record to 10-5-2, setting up a virtual must-win situation at November’s Big 12 Championships in Kansas City, Missouri. In order to reach the NCAA Tournament, the Bears needed three wins against some of the nation’s top teams—each of which beat Baylor by a goal in the regular season.

Baylor accomplished the feat, knocking off 14th-ranked Texas in overtime and 16th-ranked Oklahoma State to advance to the championship match. There, a golden goal in overtime by junior Lauren Piercy gave Baylor a 2-1 win over TCU and secured the program’s second Big 12 Tournament title. The win guaranteed an automatic berth to the NCAA Soccer Championships, which Baylor opened with a home victory over Rice. 

Every sports movie needs a dramatic climax, and in this case, a combination of last-minute drama, upset victories and, for good measure, a shoot-out would fit the bill. 

In the second round of the NCAA Championships at College Station, Texas, the Bears faced the defending national champions—ninth-ranked University of Southern California. Down by a goal in the final minute of regulation—Jobson admits the prospect of a season-ending speech crossed his mind—Baylor got an equalizing goal from junior Sarah King with 16 seconds left to send the match to overtime. Still tied after two overtimes, the match came down to penalty kicks. The Bears dominated the penalty kicks 3-0 to vanquish the defending champs.

That pushed Baylor into a round-of-16 meeting with Notre Dame. The Bears again found themselves in overtime, and again came through. Senior Precious Akanyridge’s golden goal propelled Baylor to the first Elite Eight in program history.

At third-ranked Duke, the Bears’ Cinderella run finally ended with a 3-0 loss. Nonetheless, the season included numerous accomplishments, including the program’s first Elite Eight berth and third Big 12 title, the third most wins in program history (15) and a program-best three first-team All-Big 12 performers—Akanyridge, junior Julie James and
senior Aline DeLima, who also earned All-America honors.

“This team was special,” Jobson said. “We’ve always felt like, here at Baylor, we can utilize our faith and rely on Christ for strength and energy and to become better than we are. This team really grasped that. They wrapped their arms around their faith and each other. Another piece of their success was buy-in to each other. They wanted to do it for each other. A never-say-die attitude doesn’t just happen, it comes from a belief in a big God and a belief in the sisters around you.”