Kansas State soccer is playing as well as it has all season, junior midfielder Christina Baxter said in a post-practice interview Thursday. Only one game remains between the Wildcats and Big 12 play, and it’s the toughest test yet.
Kansas State hosts the No. 7 team in the country, BYU, at Buser Family Park at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s exciting, No. 7 in the country,” K-State head coach Mike Dibbini said. “They are undefeated. We have nothing to lose. Play hard, take a lot away from the game and prepare for the Big 12. We are looking forward to it.”
The Wildcats are fresh off two solid performances in a 2-0 win against Tulsa and a 3-2 loss to Gonzaga in an overtime thriller. The Wildcats struggled to score in the two games prior to those, but found a rhythm.
“I feel like we are playing together very well,” Baxter said. “We all want the same thing. We all have the same desire on the field, and it really shows from our past games. It honestly gives me the chills, because over my last three years, this is by far the best (we’ve been in terms of) everyone being on the same page. We all want the same thing and have that desire.”
The coaching staff has been telling the team all week that BYU has a lot of similarities to Gonzaga, providing the team with a blueprint on how to prepare for a team that has yet to be beaten.
Like Gonzaga, BYU is a strong team on the perimeter of the pitch, moving the ball with aggressive, speedy athletes that score the ball often. A focus in practice has been forcing the ball from the outside to the middle so there are fewer scoring opportunities for a BYU team that thrives there.
“They are extremely similar to Gonzaga, but if you do David and Goliath, they are a little bit more of the powerhouse of it,” Dibbini said. “The head coach at Gonzaga (Chris Watkins) was a former assistant coach at BYU, so they have a lot of the same philosophies. There is a lot of offense and they are very balanced defensively.”
Two keys Dibbini said could give the Wildcats their best shot are playing well in one-on-one opportunities, especially on the outside, and attacking in transition.
The Wildcats had a tremendous counter attack against Tulsa on Sunday, where third-year sophomore Rachel Harris got a stop in goal and booted the ball upfield to Laramie Hall. A senior midfielder, Hall had the one-on-one with the Tulsa goalkeeper and punched the ball into the back of the net.
While it may not work out as well as this play, Dibbini said capitalizing on scoring opportunities is important.
“All we need is one goal for separation, and that sometimes is all you need for wins at this level,” Dibbini said. “If we can gamble a few times and come up with one of those, I think that’s going to help us move in the direction we need to go.”
Baxter is confident in the Wildcats. These are the kinds of games they prepare for, she said. And while taking on one of the toughest teams in the country is a daunting task, the team isn’t shy when it comes to a challenge.
“From a mentality perspective. I don’t have to worry about our team,” Dibbini said. “It’s either you bring it or we’re in trouble. I think the mindset is easier to come in when you come in with that underdog mentality with nothing to lose and see if we can give them a game.”