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August 10, 2012

Oklahoma State soccer looks to replace seniors

STILLWATER, Okla. — With the Oklahoma State women’s soccer program finding national prominence the last few years, the Cowgirls find themselves in a situation that could define where exactly the program is headed.

Will the 2012 season be a rebuilding year, or simply a retooling year for the two-time Elite Eight qualifiers?

Colin Carmichael and the rest of his coaching staff head into the season for the first time in some time without the likes of the greatest class of talent to come through program.

“It’s difficult. Obviously what those kids accomplished was quite impressive, to say the least,” Carmichael said. “So I’m not sure you can replace them, especially that many leaving in one season.

“But how we’re approaching it now is that those girls were great, we love them, they are welcome back at any time, but not it’s time to move on.”

Most of the departed were from the attacking third.

Oklahoma State had four of its top six offensive threats graduate — including Krista Lopez who finished her career fifth all-time in goals and sixth in assists in OSU’s record book.

The Cowgirls will however return their top goal scorer, Taylor Mathews — who led the team with nine goals last year — as well as Megan Marchesano, who led the team in assists with 10.

“It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also motivation for us to fill those shoes that have left,” Mathews said. “But it also gives an opportunity for those girls coming in to get minutes and they know that they have to come in and perform because we’ve set that standard for ourselves to perform at a certain high level.”

While filling some holes in the offense will be in order for Carmichael’s squad, they can take solace in a core returning in the defensive third.

The Cowgirls have goalkeeper AD Franch back minding the net for her senior campaign. The senior from Salina, Kan., who missed several matches mid-season last year due to injury, gave up just seven goals in 20 games — for an average of one goal every three games.

While the defense in front of Franch will be without several starters from a year ago,  it does have several senior defenders returning who have seen plenty of playing time. Returning senior defender Carson Michalowski played in 24 of 26 games last year, while fellow senior Catherine Parish played in 23 of 26.

“Experienced upperclassmen is always a big key to any type of sport because at that level you let the underclassmen know what we do here,” Franch said. “We have me and Carson in the middle of the backline with me and Taylor and (junior) Kristen Kelley in the midfield and then Megan up top. So we have leadership in each portion of the field and should do just fine.”

Another returner with some experience playing in the defending third is sophomore Miriam Rhinehart, who have playing much of the season as a midfielder started as a defender the final 10 games of the year — in which OSU recorded seven shutouts.

Even though the Cowgirls have more experience in the back third, it’s been the defense that Carmichael has been stressing in preseason practice.

“Defending starts with the entire team — defending with forwards and midfielders first before the ball even gets to your defense and your goalkeeper — and our defense has bought into that the last couple years,” Carmichael said. “So our focus has been teaching the new kids how we defend as a group and reminding the returning players of how we defend as a group.

“We haven’t even done any attacking yet, to be honest. We played a little bit for fun, but it’s been mostly about our defensive shape.”

Some of the reason for that is getting the large group of freshmen acclimated to OSU’s style of play. But come season, Carmichael said he won’t be all too worried about the freshmen — due to the talent in the class.

“A kid like Madison Mercado, I think would have started on our team last year — she’s that good. I don’t have any worries about her whatsoever,” the OSU coach said. “And then we have a player like Kelsey Bass, who is playing left back for us, has played with the U-18 National Team.”

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