Women’s soccer leads Heart conference

Story by Chad Mullen, Writer

The No. 18 Baker women’s soccer team is now in first place in the Heart of America Athletic Conference after beating William Penn University 2-1 Saturday. The Wildcats are 4-1 in Heart play, 8-3 overall.

“It feels great leading the conference five games in,” senior Jessica Hillebert said. “We know there are a lot of good teams, and we are just hoping we can stay ahead.”

Since starting the year 1-2, the Wildcats have been on a 7-1 stretch, only losing to No. 9 Benedictine College in the last eight games. All three Baker losses this year have come from ranked opponents, including No. 3 Westmont College and No. 11 Hastings College.

“With the losses to Westmont and Hastings, it kind of worried us because we had done so well last year,” Hillebert said. “As the season has gone by we have proven to ourselves we’re as good as we know we are.”

Still, their ranking in the NAIA Women’s Soccer Coaches’ Poll has dropped from 13 to 18.

“It is very frustrating, not only because we don’t want to lose games, but for the most part, we’ve even held those teams to very few shots,” Hillebert said. “So statistically, it shows a reflection of an even match.”

Through 11 games, the Wildcats are almost doubling opponents in shots on goal, 88-47, including an 11-5 advantage Saturday. Hillebert sees both sides of this statistic, as it shows the Wildcats’ offensive control, but also shows how they have let winnable games out of their reach, saying, “Throughout the game, we will outshoot our opponents quite a bit, but we haven’t always executed in critical moments.”

The goal-scoring has been a product of the front line of the Wildcats, as seniors Kady Dieringer and Krista Hooper lead the team with seven and six goals respectively on the season. Hillebert, with two assists to lead all Wildcat defenders, and the rest of the back line look to help offensively by pushing the ball forward to open teammates.

“It’s just finding passes,” Hillebert said. “When I win a tackle I immediately find someone to play the ball to, and break the pressure.”

Newcomers to the starting lineup include freshman Erica Esch, who has three goals and three assists, as well as sophomore Maria Tome Flores, who was inserted into the starting 11 midway through the season. Other than that, the team looks incredibly familiar to last season’s team that made it to the second round of the NAIA National Championship Tournament before losing to eventual National Champion Spring Arbor University.

“Our team is so talented, all we have to do is work together and believe in ourselves,” Hillebert said of the 2016 Wildcats. “Because when we do, it’s great to watch.”

Last year’s success on top of this year’s conference-leading first half of the season gives Hillebert and the Wildcats hope for more postseason success, but they know it will take consistent improvement for the last seven games of the regular season.”

“I would really like to win out the regular season, and it would be nice to see some more shutouts,” she said. “But mostly we want to progress as a team so when nationals come around, we’re ready.”