While state championships are the ultimate measure of success in high school athletics, what goes into making those special moments possible should not be overlooked.
In the midst of great success this season, Baylor School girls' soccer coach Curtis Blair has enjoyed seeing his team build not only on the soccer field but off of it as well.
While maintaining a level of championship work, the Lady Red Raiders have also had their fair share of fun on team road trips to watching the women's World Cup at camp and celebrating a locker room upgrade where the lights can change into the team's shade of red.
Blair deems this year's squad as one of the "deepest" teams he has had since taking over in 2014.
"When we judge our program at the end of every season we look and ask ourselves, 'Do the girls truly care about each other?', Blair said. "When you have a team that cares about everyone, that is success. When you have that it makes everything else on the field so much easier. This group of girls loves being around each other, in the locker room together and going out to eat.
"Once you have a team that is together and bought into each other's success, everything else is golden. They are going to fight and compete every time for one another."
Fight and compete is exactly what Baylor has done at an extremely high level this season and it continued Tuesday night with a 4-0 home shutout on Senior Nightover Knox Webb.
The Lady Red Raiders are 9-0-1 overall on the season and have outscored opponents 41-3. Their success on the field has resulted in earning national attention.
Baylor is ranked the No. 1 girls' soccer team in the country for the fall season by MaxPreps.com and is 15th in the nation according to the United Soccer Coaches poll that came out Tuesday. Bearden is ranked first in the country by the United Soccer Coaches, while second by MaxPreps. Bearden, which had scoreless tie with Baylor Sept. 2, is also ranked sixth by MaxPreps.
Eleven different girls have scored for Baylor, while 14 have landed an assist so far in 2023.
Senior Jada Cooper leads the attack with 18 combined goals and assists, while fellow seniors Sophia Mize and Elizabeth Stophel have combined for 15 goals and assists.
A stellar sophomore duo of Ryleigh Ramey and Elizabeth Silva has also spurred an electric offense, while freshman Brylee Faulkner has also been a playmaker.
Defensively, Sara Hill has led a strong effort in front of goal along with Campbell Hoss to go along with a back line comprised of Zoe Misenhimer, Lilly Catalanotto, Emily Betterton, Emery Carico and Corinne Hessler.
Tuesday against Knox Webb, Baylor was able to start all of its 11 seniors to begin a special night of recognition. That included seniors Ellie Carico, Ellis Mitchum and Aly Johnston, who have been key parts to the team despite still in recovery from ACL injuries.
Forty seconds into the match Stophel made a dominant run down the right sideline and sent a perfect cross to Cooper who deked the defense to set up Lily Simpson on the back left side to hammer in the score. Cooper added a picture perfect assist later to Stophel and found pay dirt herself with a penalty kick score. Silva's score rounded out a dominant showing.
"Stophel and I are with each other for most of the day and we are always discussing how we need to start off the game," said Cooper, who has 11 goals and seven assists. "We have a lot of strong players who work really hard and can step in and shine at any moment. Our chemistry is strong on and off the field, too, which makes us dangerous."
The Lady Red Raiders continued their nearly unstoppable trend at home, improving to 26-1-3 on their home grass over the past three seasons and have not allowed a goal in seven home matches this year. On Tuesday, Hoss stepped up big time, denying three consecutive shots from close range on the way to a clean sheet.
As they hope to chase down the 10th state title in program history and first since 2017, Baylor will not let any outside noise stop them of trying to obtain their top goal.
"At the end of the day, we tell our girls there is only one poll that matters," said Blair, whose program sits two behind Franklin's 11 state titles for the most in TSSAA girls' soccer history. "That's the one at the very end of the season. All of the other stuff is nice and shows what the girls have accomplished to this point, but we are focused on enjoying our time together and working towards winning a championship."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com.