Angela Kelly said the same thing during Texas’ difficult nonconference schedule.
Texas’ head coach constantly articulated that the Longhorns’ difficult schedule — they faced four ranked opponents in their first five games — would get them ready for the conference schedule.
So a loss to then-No. 5 North Carolina didn’t really worry Kelly. It’s the experience of playing teams of that level that she looks forward to.
“Ultimately it comes down to: in order to be the best, you have to play the best,” Kelly said. “I’ve always had that philosophy.”
The Longhorns started slow to begin the year: after eight games, their record was 3-2-3. But they now boast a 7-3-4 record and a 4-1-1 conference record.
“The harder teams that we play, it’s preparing us for the more difficult times during the season,” senior goalkeeper Abby Smith said. “And helping us get over those humps, just because everybody goes through those.”
Texas’ biggest roadblock for much of the year was scoring goals. Through nine games, the Longhorns only managed six goals. There were a number of games where they had more than 20 shots, but didn’t score or only managed one goal.
But in their last five games, the Longhorns have scored nine goals. Their tough schedule instilled the belief that they can play conference opponents well, having played such a tough nonconference schedule.
“It just gives us more confidence that we’ve played these teams,” Smith said. “And that it kind of prepares us. And we know that everybody plays differently but it helps us adjust to how we’re going to play.”
If the Longhorns win both games this weekend (against Oklahoma on Friday and Baylor on Sunday) and West Virginia loses one game, then Texas will share the Big 12 Championship.
Smith can accomplish a milestone this weekend. She needs one more shutout to set Texas’ all-time shutout record.
“We’d love to see her reach that accomplishment,” Kelly said. “And that’s going to be something we’re all going to work hard towards.”