STILLWATER, Okla. — The Oklahoma State women’s soccer team will have a drastically different contest Friday than it did last week.
A week ago, the Cowgirls hosted South Dakota State for a first-round contest in the NCAA Championship. They won 1-0, advancing to the second round for the first time in two years.
In 2017, OSU defeated Missouri State in a penalty kick shootout, ending a six-year drought of advancing to the second round. In the next round, highly-ranked Duke eliminated OSU with a 7-0 victory.
The Cowgirls (16-2-3) are now in Southern California for a potential weekend of action. They play Santa Clara (14-5-2) at 1 p.m. Friday in the second round of the NCAA Championship. It will be played at the University of Southern California campus.
“Of course, I wanted to play at home, but I kind of like the fact that we’re traveling, because you just get to focus on the game,” OSU coach Colin Carmichael said. “A lot of the distractions you have at home aren’t there. … We have an experienced bunch, so I don’t think going out west or east is going to bother us.”
The winner of the OSU and Santa Clara match will play either USC or Texas A&M on Sunday. The winner of the weekend will advance to the Elite 8. OSU hasn’t played in an Elite 8 game since 2010 and 2011.
“If you can make it to the last 16 of any sport, you’ve had a fantastic season,” Carmichael said. “We’ve had a great year, but that’s something we haven’t done for a while. For me, the last time as a coach, we progressed to the Elite 8 was 2011, I think. So, it’s been a while.”
First, the Cowgirls must defeat a tough Santa Clara squad that defeated California in overtime last week. Santa Clara, which won the 2001 National Championship, has won six-straight games and hasn’t lost since Sept. 22.
Although the Cowgirls are one of the national seeds, Carmichael isn’t sleeping on the Broncos. He knows what his squad faces Friday afternoon.
“First of all, a lot of people that aren’t in the women’s soccer world don’t realize they’re one of the perennial powers,” Carmichael said. “They’ve won a national championship. They’ve been to Final Fours. A great coach, a great team and a great program.
“This year’s version is very athletic. They’re averaging almost three goals a game, which is a phenomenal number. They’re top 10 in the nation in scoring, so they’ve got a real goal threat. That’s first and foremost. They play good soccer. They’re expansive. They like to build out of the back, so they’re a really good team and we’re looking forward to it. We think it’s going to be a heck of a matchup.”
Last week’s opponent in SDSU was a much more defensive team. Now, the Cowgirls face an offensive squad in Santa Clara that will change their approach to the match.
Carmichael dove into how OSU will have to adjust its play from what it did last week.
“Against South Dakota, we had a lot of the ball and we tried to do some things where we could open them up and get in spaces to hurt them,” Carmichael said. “With Santa Clara, I think they’re going to have quite a lot of the ball and we’re going to have to have a really good defensive shape. We probably won’t press as high. We’ll probably try and stay a little more compact, because if the game gets stretched against a team like Santa Clara, those athletes are going to have 1v1 opportunities and it’s going to be difficult for us.
“So, I think we’re going to have to be a little more compact than we were last Friday. We’re also a good counter-attacking team, and against South Dakota State that wasn’t really the way the game was set up. It was more about us going at them and them counter-attacking us. I would think on Friday, that evens out a little bit. It’s a different matchup and look, but a lot of that comes down to experience. Our kids have seen a lot of different styles. What we do is try to stay within our system and make little adjustments here and there for the opposition.”
OSU junior goalkeeper Dani Greenlee said she feels confident the Cowgirls’ play style could match well against the Broncos.
“Whenever we went to Penn State, they played similar to this,” Greenlee said. “Texas Tech plays similar to this. TCU – very similar. We’ve played a lot of teams that like to stretch out and play and allow us to defend, which is something we’re super good at. I’ve said from the beginning, we definitely have the best defense in the Big 12 and one of the top defenses in the nation. I am biased, but I stand by that.
“… Communication will be key in this game. This team with the movement they have and how athletic their players are, communication is going to be huge. We’re all going to have to be on the same page at the same time.”
Carmichael also said communication, especially on the back line, will be crucial to winning this game.
“Our back three are really going to have to play well,” Carmichael said. “We’re going to have to help them. We’re going to have to limit their touches. We’ve played against some really good attacking teams in the Big 12, as well, and it’s a group effort. We’re going to have to get numbers around the ball and try to limit their looks. You’re not going to shut them down – those kids are good – but you want to limit their looks.”
Gillispie writes for Stillwater News Press, a CNHI News Service publication.