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Spencer Parlier | NCAA.com | September 25, 2019

Women’s college soccer: 5 things to know before Big 12 play kicks off

Women's soccer plays of the week

Big 12 play kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 26 with a slate of four games. Defending regular-season champions Baylor are among the teams getting conference play started on the 26th, when the Bears visit Kansas State. 

The Big 12 will hope to produce a title contender this year as the conference has never been able to generate a national champion since women's soccer became an NCAA recognized sport in 1982. The closest was when West Virginia finished runner-up in 2016. 

But this is a new year for the Big 12. Teams like Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State hope to make history and become the first Big 12 team to win a national championship. 

Here's everything you need to know about the Big 12 before conference play begins:

Texas Tech looks to bring its offensive firepower into conference play

The Red Raiders will enter Big 12 play with an 8-1 record and the conference's most lethal offense. Texas Tech has the highest goals per game in the conference and has one of the nation's top goal scorers leading the Red Raiders upfront. Junior forward Kirsten Davis has stormed out of the gate this season. The St. Louis native leads the Big 12 in goals (10) and points (25). She is also tied for first in the nation in goals with Louisiana Tech's Autumn Woodard and Stanford's Catarina Macario. Although the Red Raiders haven't had many marquee matchups, they have prevailed versus their only ranked opponent, then-No. 22 South Florida, winning 2-1. Back in the top 25 (No. 25, formerly No. 22 in United Soccer Coaches' preseason rankings), Texas Tech will get a chance to show why it should remain there when it faces No. 18 Oklahoma State in the teams' first Big 12 game. A win against the Cowgirls could propel Texas Tech into the national conversation and make it prime contenders in the Big 12. 

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Oklahoma State is unbeaten due to defense 

Oklahoma State Athletics Dani Greenlee Oklahoma State Women's soccer Dani Greenlee, goalkeeper for Oklahoma State, makes a save proving herself to be one of the most formidable goalies in the Big 12

The Cowgirls have shown their opponents how a strong defense and consistent goalkeeping can win games. At 7-0-2, Oklahoma State's pair of ties came against rival Oklahoma (a rivalry game early in the season that did not count toward Big 12 play) and No. 23 SMU. The rest of the Cowgirls' games have been victories as they knocked off opponents such as Oral Roberts, Saint Louis and early season Big Ten favorite Penn State. Oklahoma State's early season success has been anchored by their defense, as the Cowgirls are leading the Big 12 in goals allowed (5), and goals allowed average (.56). These stats would not be obtainable without the wall of a goalkeeper Oklahoma State has holding down its defense. Dani Greenlee is tied for first in the conference in goals allowed (5) and is third in goals allowed average (.678). OSU and its defense will get another test as it travels to Lubbock, Texas to take on Texas Tech and that previously mentioned high-flying offense in its first Big 12 game. 

The Big 12's early season top tier has fallen off 

West Virginia Athletics Defending Big 12 champions West Virginia The defending Big 12 champs, West Virginia, have fallen off a little bit this year making way for other Big 12 teams to emerge

The Big 12 entered the 2019 season with four teams in the United Soccer Coaches preseason top 25. There was a lot of potential in teams such as Texas, Baylor and West Virginia, but because of early season struggles against ranked and unranked opponents, these three squads are currently looking to rebound from slow out-of-conference starts. Defending conference champion West Virginia was the highest-ranked team out of the gate this season, perched at No. 11 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason top 25, but due to the fact that the Mountaineers couldn't get the job done against ranked — losses against then-No. 3 Stanford, then-No. 6 Virginia and then-No. 15 Georgetown — even a valiant 1-1 tie versus Big Ten favorite Penn State couldn't bolster them into the top 25 prior to conference play. As for last year's regular season champs, the Baylor Bears, they've also struggled early this season, as their 4-2-3 record includes losses against Colorado and Arkansas. Their one solid performance came against Pac 12 power USC when they tied the Trojans 1-1 on September 20. Texas faced similar struggles in non-conference play. The Longhorns, brimming with talents like preseason MAC Hermann watchlist nominees Cyera Hintzen and Haley Berg, and young potential breakout Julia Grosso, dropped four games in non-conference play to Denver, Colorado, Monmouth and Providence. Texas, sitting at 5-4, hopes an 8-0 whopping of Grambling State sets it back on track, as Grosso and Berg are still premiere players, both in the top five of the Big 12 in points. 

Kirsten Davis and Kansas' Katie McClure might be the Big 12's best shot at the MAC Hermann trophy

Texas Tech Athletics Kirsten Davis Texas Tech Kirsten Davis has been lighting up the scoreboard this year

Texas Tech's high-powered offense has already been mentioned, but let's dive a little deeper into what, or who, fueling this offensive machine — Kirsten Davis. Davis leads the conference in goals (10) and points (25), as well as shots on goal. The St. Louis native is in good company as far as the national stage goes, as she is tied for first in the nation in goals scored with Louisiana Tech's Autumn Woodard and defending MAC Hermann trophy winner, Stanford's Catarina Macario. Obviously, Macario is good company to be around if Davis wants to be considered a MAC Hermann contender, but, at least in her own conference, the Texas Tech forward is top of the class in almost every offensive category. Leading the conference in points and goals, Davis is also tied for second in the conference in assists (5), is second in game-winning goals (4) and leads in goals per game (1.11). The closest competition to Davis is Katie McClure, the forward from Kansas who is putting up some impressive numbers herself: 9 goals, .9 goals per game and 5 game-winning goals. McClure is also on the higher-ranked team, as 8-2 Kansas sits at No. 17. McClure will be able to distinguish herself from Davis when the two meet on October 13. Texas Tech hosts the Jayhawks in what will be a pivotal matchup for the shape of the Big 12. 

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Kansas and Oklahoma State are the faces of the Big 12 heading into conference play

 

There are only three Big 12 teams who are ranked in the latest edition of the United Soccer Coaches rankings. Those teams are Kansas (No. 17), Oklahoma State (No. 18) and Texas Tech (No. 25). Of those three, Oklahoma State had the most impressive week as it jumped from No. 25 to No. 18 in the rankings after beating Kennesaw State and tying No. 23 SMU. As for Kansas, it's coming off of a week that featured a loss to No. 5 and perfect BYU and a win versus Kennesaw State. Don't sleep on the Red Raiders though, as their previously mentioned offensive firepower and momentum heading into Big 12 play catapulted them into the top 25, as their two wins last week came against UC Irvine and a then-No. 22 South Florida team. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State will face each other at the start of conference play as the first marquee matchup of the Big 12 season. 

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