By Steve Lansdale
AUSTIN, Texas — With three games to go in the regular season, the Texas soccer team finds itself with an unfamiliar point of view: looking up
For years, the Longhorns have been at or very near the top of the Big 12 standings. But with just a trio of games left in the regular season — Friday’s 7 p.m. home game against Kansas and Sunday’s 1 p.m. home finale against Kansas (UT then will close out the regular season at 7 p.m. next Thursday at Texas Tech) — the Longhorns find themselves in fifth place in the conference standings. Texas has an overall record of 11-2-2, and started the season by making a claim that it belonged among the nation’s elite teams. The Longhorns tied two games in their first 12 before suffering their first loss, and climbed in the national rankings as one of the last teams in the country to lose a game.
Mathematically, it’s possible that Texas still could vault back to the top of the standings, but also highly unlikely. An upset or two is possible among the four teams at the top — Baylor and West Virginia are tied atop the league standings at 5-1, followed by 4-2 Kansas and 4-2-1 Texas Tech — but the idea that they all will lose enough to stumble below is ridiculous.
Texas head coach Angela Kelly, however, said she believes that while her team is not leading in the standings, the Longhorns are in a solid position heading into the season’s final week.
“We’re pretty excited about our body of work this season,” Kelly said. “Having only lost two games to this point is pretty tremendous. It’s due to our senior leadership, to the leadership of the team as a whole. The chemistry has been fantastic, and there’s a ton of belief that they have in one another, representing the University of Texas.”
Friday’s game against the 10-3-1 Jayhawks is critical, as a Texas victory would leapfrog the Longhorns past KU, and perhaps others, depending on results around the league, in the standings. The intensity, Kelly said, is a reflection of strength of the conference, in which several teams can claim elite status, while none owns an unblemished record.
“When we went on the road for our four games on the road … the intensity that we faced at Oklahoma State on that Friday night, and then heading to TCU (where the Longhorns suffered their first loss), and then Iowa State and then finishing that two-weekends-away trip with West Virginia … it was a battle from start to finish,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be a battle. It’s a credit to the conference, the No. 1 RPI conference in the country. I’m not sure where it’s rated this week, but last week, it was five, I think, teams in the top 25, and that’s pretty impressive.
“Everybody has a loss in this league. Nobody’s going to go unscathed, for sure.”
Heading into the final week, three teams — Baylor, West Virginia and UT — are ranked in the United Soccer Coaches Top 25 poll. Baylor is No. 13, West Virginia is No. 16 and Texas is No. 17. Kansas received votes in this week’s poll.
KU’s win last week over TCU clinched a spot for the Jayhawks in the Big 12 Championship Oct. 28-Nov. 4 in Kansas City, marking the eighth straight season in which Kansas will play in the league’s postseason tournament. The game also marked the 250th victory in the career of Kansas head coach Mark Francis.
If Texas can get a lead, it doesn’t mean the Jayhawks will go away quietly, as 10 of 23 Kansas goals this year have come in the last 30 minutes of games.
KU is coming off a 2-1 overtime home loss to Texas, a setback decided by an own goal in the second minute of extra time. Since 2016, Kansas is 8-3-2 in games after a loss.