Top defenses set to clash in Waco

Dalton Phillips

No. 10 Texas prepares for the only Big 12 team more suffocating defensively than itself as the team heads to Waco on Friday for the final stretch of the regular season. The Longhorns will hit the turf two more times before the Big 12 Championship in November, with a match against Baylor on Friday, followed by a home matchup with No. 24 Oklahoma State a week later to close out regular-season play. Both have now become must-win games in a tightly contested conference postseason race.

Barring a team upsetting Big 12 leader West Virginia over the next week, a win on Friday over Baylor would make Texas’ final regular season game against Oklahoma State a fight for the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament. Only four programs in the Big 12, including Texas, boast a single conference loss. A second or third defeat could see the Longhorns finish as low as No. 6.

The Lady Bears enter Friday’s match allowing the fewest goals per game in the conference, as well as the most shutouts of any Big 12 team. Texas sits a spot behind at No. 2 in each category. And the similarities don’t stop there. Each team features a true freshman who plays a pivotal role for the program. The Longhorns lean on forward Haley Berg to generate offense, while Baylor’s defensive identity revolves around goalie Jennifer Wandt holding things down inside.

Texas boasts a stronger all-around roster. The Longhorns are stronger offensively in nearly every facet, earning higher goals and assists than the middle-of-the-pack Baylor offense. The Longhorns look to run up their time of possession in each match, limiting opponents chances to score. The Lady Bears, on the other hand, excel at stalling opposing offenses and launching lethal counterattacks.

But that isn’t to say Texas’ identity exists solely at the offensive end. Head coach Angela Kelly has repeatedly emphasized her vision of the Longhorns as defensive juggernauts. A strong offense is just one more step in building an unbreakable defense.

“I’m most pleased about our performance as a defensive unit,” Kelly said after the team’s road shutout of Kansas State, later adding, “There are still things we need to polish up this week to prepare for a great squad in Baylor.”

For many of the Texas players, these final two matches are about more than postseason positioning. It is a point of pride as the team continues to establish itself as one of the nation’s top programs. After bouncing back from a three-game winless streak, a strong finish would cement just that.

“We know we can stand in this country (with the top teams), seeing how we started the season 11–0 with 13 games undefeated,” Berg said.