SAN ANTONIO – The UTSA soccer team (5-2-2) heads north on I-35 on Sunday to square off with a Big 12 opponent for the second time this year, taking on the Baylor Bears (4-3-1) at the Betty Lou Mays Soccer Field. This matchup between the Roadrunners and Bears is the 12th in the series and first meeting regular-season meeting since 2017, slated for 6 p.m. kickoff and broadcast on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
Broadcast and Live Stats
- Sunday night’s game will air at 6 p.m. on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ for subscribers. Pete Sousa (play-by-play) and Kit McConnico (analyst) will be on the call.
- Baylor live stats can be found via HERE.
Catching up with the Roadrunners
Last time out, the Roadrunners wrapped up the inaugural American Athletic Conference opener at Tulsa with a scoreless draw. Despite a variety of opportunities in the 11-shot affair that saw six saved on target, UTSA just couldn’t find the back of the net. In addition, the Roadrunners saw the potential game-winner called back, as grad forward Alissa Stewart punched in a goal in the 14th minute, waved off for offsides while the ball was pinballed by numerous headers off a corner kick. Making her third consecutive start, freshman goalkeeper Jasmine Kessler protected the box well, making a couple monster saves among her three stops to earn her second clean sheet.
UTSA also previously registered a scoreless finish in its lone other draw this season, at Cal Baptist on Sept. 3.
Head coach Derek Pittman is 44-37-14 (.537) in his sixth season at UTSA and 95-104-32 (.481) overall.
Freshman forward Sophie Morrin has edged away from the pack with three goals on the season, rocketing in the third one week ago at Stephen F. Austin. Morrin has scored in each of her three on-target attempts out of seven total shots (.429 SOG%). Just behind Morrin, grad defender Sabrina Hillyer has a pair of goals and is the clear leader at attacking the goal – putting up a team-best 16 shots with eight logged on target (.500 SOG%). Also aggressive around the box, junior forward Jordan Walker has 11 shots, six on target (.545 SOG%). The trio are the leading edge of a diverse UTSA attack that has recorded 18 different players with shots, including 17 players with an on-goal shot and 11 different players logging a goal. As a team, UTSA is averaging 13.22 shots and 5.89 on target per outing.
Setting up the Roadrunners’ attack, UTSA has 20 assists, leading The American in total assists while ranking 22nd in the NCAA. In per-game average, UTSA sits at 38th nationally and third in the AAC with 2.22 apg. Pacing the supporting effort, junior midfielder Jordyn Hyland has a team-high four assists, tying for second in the American and 33rd nationally. Also helping along the scoring effort, senior defender Alex Granville has three assists and ties for fifth in the AAC and 99th nationally with three assists. The Roadrunners are fourth in the league in total points and fifth in scoring offense. Morrin, Hillyer and Hyland are in a three-way tie for the top UTSA scoring spot with six points apiece.
Stonewalling the Opposition
Most of the season, but clearly over the past four outings, UTSA has a firm command of the midfield, with Roadrunner defenders limiting opponents’ chances. UTSA has outscored the opposition 7-1 over the past four games and hold a 15-6 advantage on the year. That’s the result of limiting the past four opponents to just 26 total shots and a mere 12 on target. Of the nine games on the year, UTSA has only allowed more than a single score twice, in games at Kansas State and Grand Canyon – the latter being a 6-2-1 opponent that is has the fourth-most shutouts and the nation’s No. 10 scorer, Giana Gourley.
For their efforts, the Roadrunners allow just 0.67 goals against per game to rank second in The American and 52nd nationally, and have earned shutouts in five of their nine matches – coming in at third in the AAC and 53rd in the NCAA with a .556 shutout percentage. Aiding that 2023 effort, UTSA has outshot the opponent thanks to the strong defensive effort, logging a 119-67 (13.22 to 7.44) differential with a 53-32 SOG advantage.
Making a Rookie Stand
At the center of the latest round of scoring margins, the rookie keeper Kessler has been steady for the Roadrunners across three starts and 270 minutes in goal. She’s only allowed a single goal in each of the last three games, notching seven saves and accounting for numerous scoops and clears in the 18-yard box you’ll never find on the stat sheet.
One thing spectators will see if she’s in the net is her booming goal and clearance kicks well beyond mid-field – no surprise given her background. The Spring, Texas, Klein Collins-graduate, Kessler earned back-to-back District 15-6A Goalkeeper of the Year honors and was a multi-sport athlete in track and basketball. Additionally, her booting prowess created a role in the kicking rotation for the KCHS football team, where she became the first female Texas 6A HS football player to score in the playoffs – scoring on an extra point in the third quarter against Bridgeland (Nov. 11, 2022).
Forward From Here
A meaningful motto for the 2023 Roadrunners squad, Forward From Here is indicative of the progress and culture instilled under Pittman – coming to fruition in each of the past three seasons. Prior to his arrival in 2018, UTSA had won just 11 games in the prior three seasons with a .267 winning percentage. Though his vision didn’t materialize overnight, fast-forward to 2021 when the Roadrunners collected double-digit wins for the first time since 2010 – when they won the Southland conference.
Pittman’s Roadrunners followed up with a 12-6-3 overall record in 2022, closing out the year in historic fashion, sweeping through three games at the Conference USA Tournament, and defeating Florida Atlantic in overtime, 3-2, for their first conference tournament title since 2010 – earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament, where they battled fifth-seeded TCU to a 3-1 loss in Fort Worth.
For their success, the soccer team joined in with fellow C-USA Champions from the football team for a City of San Antonio celebratory boat parade on the River Walk.
Riding the Ranking Rollercoaster
Although the Roadrunners haven’t made an appearance in the national team rankings, UTSA debuted this season with its highest United Soccer Coaches South Region ranking in program history – after appearing in the poll just twice last season in another first for the program. Since week one, the Roadrunners have moved around, but remained in the top 10, entering Sunday’s matchup at fifth in the South standings.
Unsurprisingly for a University of Texas System program, the Roadrunners roster features 14 in-state players from within the Lone Star State. Although a private school, Baylor’s roster features 23 in-state players among its 31-player roster. The Bears roster has no players from San Antonio, but leans pretty heavily toward the Dallas Metroplex.
Facing the Big 12
Taking on their second opponent from the Big 12 Conference this season, across the 18-year stretch of the program, UTSA is 1-36-1 against Big 12 teams – facing nine different programs. In the second week of the 2023 season, UTSA traveled to Kansas State, finishing with a hard-fought 0-2 loss that saw UTSA outshot 18-8 by the aggressive Wildcats. The Roadrunners previously held a draw with Baylor in 2007.
Meeting for the 12th time in program history, Baylor leads the series 10-0-1, dating back to a September matchup in UTSA’s inaugural 2006 season. The last formal meeting was in 2017, but the Bears edged UTSA in exhibition play last season, 2-1. The 2007 squad was the one to tie the Bears, producing a 2-2 finish at home in San Antonio. The last loss in Waco was a tight one, going to 0-1, but the mid-2010s saw UTSA outscored 21-0 across a four-game stretch in the series (’12, ’13, ’14, ’15).
Scouting the Bears
Facing a diverse lineup of opponents to date, the early Baylor season has been a challenging one, conceding losses to Nebraska, SMU and Texas. Baylor is coming off their toughest outing of the year, hosting 17th-ranked UT in a 4-0 loss on Thursday. Baylor held the line beyond the half, but after the Longhorns notched the first score in the 54th minute, the floodgates opened in the final 13 minutes. The Bears were coming off a 7-0 drubbing of Abilene Cristian last Sunday at home.
Baylor has a proven ability to put scores on the board if opposing defenses give too much, scoring multiple goals in four outings this season, leading to a 17-9 scoring differential to date. The Bears have come up on the short end of shot numbers, lagging behind 117-107 with 13.4 shots per game and putting 51.4 percent on target.
The top two offensive forces for the Bears are evident, as senior midfielder Ashley Merrill has easily surpassed last year’s four goals with six on the board already this year – Merrill racked up a hat trick in the big win over ACU on just four shots. Sophomore forward Tyler Isgrig has been a standout for Baylor, collecting four goals across three games with a team-high five assists across four contests. Isgrig leads the team with 20 shots, putting 11 on target for a .550 SOG%, while Merrill has fired off 17 and 12 on goal (.706 SOG%) and freshman forward Skylar has 16 takes.
The Bears have tag-teamed net duties between sophomore Ashlee Zirkel and Oklahoma grad transfer Makinzie Short - Zirkell getting the bulk of starts (5). Zirkel has given up seven goals, but has 23 saves and a .767 save percentage. Across five games, Short has only seen two goals cross the pipes, registering 19 saves and a .905 save percentage.
Now in her second season leading the Bears, Michelle Lenard is 8-14-3 (.380) and 209-91-28 (.680) after 14 years at Dallas Baptist.
UP NEXT: It’s a massive week at home with only a single contest on the slate, welcoming two-time defending AAC champion Memphis to the Park West Athletic Complex on Thursday. Sitting at 6-1 with a Sunday matchup against UT Martin, the Tigers rank 14th in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll; 13th in TopDrawerSoccer’s latest rankings.