Big 12 Series: New faces, new places, same game for soccer


Illustration: Ryan Francois/Iowa State Daily

Soccer teams in the Big 12 Conference will be facing new opponents in the upcoming season with the loss of Texas A&M and Missouri and the addition of West Virginia and TCU. This means extra preparation for the Big 12 teams, but also the opportunity to form healthy new rivalries with each other.

Cory Weaver

One of the most intriguing parts of the Big 12 realignment is how it affects each sport in a completely different way. For the soccer scene, adjustments will be made both on and off the field, giving the sport a whole new look.

After Nebraska and Colorado parted ways with the Big 12 Conference in June 2010, Texas A&M and Missouri went the same route just more than a year later. Now, the Big 12 welcomes two new faces into the conference in West Virginia and Texas Christian University.

Despite the teams having few ties to the conference, ISU coach Wendy Dillinger said everyone is in a somewhat similar boat.

“At the end of the day, it’s soccer,” Dillinger said. “But I think in terms of just the mentality going into it, with two new teams coming in, it’s going to be new to them; but we also have two other teams in the conference that have new coaches, so there’s a lot of change.”

So long Texas A&M, Missouri

The Aggies take with them 17 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances dating back to 1995. Five Big 12 tournament titles and seven regular-season titles made them one of the most dominant teams in the Big 12.

That championship legacy is one that Oklahoma State coach Colin Carmichael believes is one of the biggest losses the conference suffers with the realignment.

“[Texas A&M] has kind of helped the Big 12 get a national reputation by going out and playing teams like Florida and [North] Carolina and Duke, and that helps the whole conference,” Carmichael said. “Missouri didn’t have as much success as A&M, but they still went and played a lot of tough teams.”

ISU goalkeeper Maddie Jobe said she hopes the competition with the new teams would rival that of the Aggies.

“I hope the atmosphere is the same because I know we played at A&M this past year and it’s a fun place to play,” Jobe said.

In terms of postseason accolades, Missouri wasn’t as successful as its conference colleague, but being a consistently competitive team year in and year out is one thing the team did do.

A 2008 Big 12 tournament title and a 2009 regular-season championship accompany four NCAA tournament appearances as well for the Tigers.

On the ISU spectrum, the Cyclones’ 5-10-1 record against the Tigers was one of the least successful for the team that now allows Iowa State to have a clean slate against some new opponents.

On the pitch

Once the season starts, all the teams will be facing opponents they haven’t seen before or at least don’t see very often.

Not only does that mean teams will have to do some extra homework for preparation — especially Iowa State, whose opening weekend includes West Virginia — but it also means teams will get the opportunity to form rivalries with each other.

Dillinger said she is curious to see how her team reacts to and views the new faces.

“I think the one thing that will be interesting to see how it plays out is the fact that there’s no tradition with West Virginia,” Dillinger said. “They’re a great program in their own right, but there’s no tradition in the conference, so how are our players going to view them?”

On the other side of that spectrum is how West Virginia and TCU view the Big 12 teams from the outsider point of view.

The Mountaineers come into the conference riding back-to-back Big East titles and 12 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

Having a plethora of new teams to play could cause a team to lose sight of its past success in a different location. However, WVU goalkeeper Sara Keane said they have a different outlook on it.

“I actually think it will be more motivation because we are going to be the new kids in town in the Big 12,” Keane said. “So I think we’ll want to come in there and make an immediate statement.”

The competitive nature of the Big 12 has been one where every team has a shot at making the conference tournament every season. Not only because a team just needs to finish in the top eight of the nine total teams to advance, but every team is in contention even down to the final weekend.

Losing Texas A&M and Missouri normally would put a big dent in the conference’s RPI rankings, but KU coach Mark Francis said he doesn’t think that will be the case considering the level of competition TCU and West Virginia bring.

“Last year, the Big 12 in soccer was ranked second in RPI behind the ACC, so we were ranked in the second-toughest conference in the country, so this year I don’t think it will be any different,” Francis said. “I think we’ll be right up there.”

Off the pitch

One of the first things that comes to mind when people think of college athletic programs switching conferences is the travel aspect — especially when considering the word “student” precedes “student-athletes” — and how far teams have to go for games is always a topic of discussion.

TCU is located in Fort Worth, Texas, which will make travel for them actually easier than Baylor, which is situated in Waco, Texas.

West Virginia’s East Coast location isn’t as convenient, but WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said traveling distances for them has become more of the norm.

“I do think that at one point, the Big East was in a cluster, but we expanded so much,” Izzo-Brown said. “In some regards, it’s very obvious Texas and Oklahoma and places like Iowa are a little bit farther, and nobody’s excited about that extra travel, but I think it’s just a great opportunity for our student-athletes to maybe see a part of the country maybe they haven’t seen.”

For TCU, the change in location is actually something it is excited about. Now, the Horned Frogs get to compete against Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech every season, which will offer several new in-state rivalries.

Some of those rivalries will be renewed, as TCU also was in the old Southwestern Conference, which disintegrated and saw four of its schools join the Big Eight Conference to make up the Big 12 Conference.

TCU coach Eric Bell will begin his first regular season with the team this year and said everyone is looking forward to the in-state battles.

“I know the folks here at TCU are very excited about having the opportunity to play against these in-state teams and have it matter,” Bell said. “There will definitely be some rivalries being built within the conference and I think everyone around here is definitely excited about it.”

If everything goes according to plan, the 2012 Big 12 soccer season is going to be one filled with storylines just like the other revenue sports. With that comes some uncertainty as well, and Bell summed that up perfectly.

“A lot of people don’t know what to expect,” Bell said. “So I think that will make the conference season a little bit more interesting, but as the conference season goes on, I think people are going to figure out what makes teams tick.”