By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A loss in the first round of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament hurts just as much as a loss in the Elite Eight, Oklahoma State University coach Colin Carmichael said.
Carmichael has experienced both.
In October 2010, the Cowgirls lost to Notre Dame, 2-0, in an Elite Eight contest at the Cowgirls Soccer Complex. In November 2011, OSU fell to Stanford in the Elite Eight at Stanford, Calif.
Friday night, Carmichael’s young Cowgirls fell 2-1 to Arkansas in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship.
OSU (9-7-6) has just two seniors on the roster. Only senior midfielder Kristen Kelley saw significant playing time.
“It’s tough for the kids and it’s tough for us,” Carmichael said. “These young players are going to get better. ... Hopefully, we use this experience to make us a little bit stronger for next season.”
Friday’s game was as close as the score indicated.
Arkansas (14-8-0) put 17 shots on goal. Oklahoma State had 16.
It was physical, too.
The Razorbacks collected 14 fouls to OSU’s 13.
The Cowgirl coaches expected a physical game from Arkansas. Carmichael compared Arkansas’ style to Iowa State and Baylor in the Big 12. Baylor picked up 21 fouls in a 1-0 win over OSU on Oct. 25.
“Arkansas, they scrap, they fight, they’re gutty. They are very good on set plays,” Carmichael said.
Both Razorback goals came off set plays.
Arkansas scored first with approximately 11:30 left in the first half. Razorback freshman midfielder Claire Kelley passed the ball from OSU’s endline to Lindsey Mayo in front of the Cowgirls’ goal. Mayo took the pass and put the ball in the far corner of the goal.
The Cowgirls had two solid chances about midway through the first. Arkansas goalkeeper Cameron Carter stopped Courtney Dike’s shot at the 22:54 mark. About eight minutes later, she turned Madison Mercado’s shot away.
Mercado put the Cowgirls on the scoreboard early in the second half. Mercado dribbled downfield and knocked a left-footed, 25-yard kick past Carter.
Oklahoma State had a chance to take the lead a little more than two minutes later, but Carter kept Mercado’s header out of the goal.
Mercado bounced back from a mid-season slump to take charge of the Cowgirl offense in the Big 12 Championships and Friday’s game.
She said she realized she had to start playing up to her capabilities.
“Every game could have been our last. It’s not an excuse, but I think that’s what really pushed me over the edge to do what I needed to do for my time,” he said.
The Razorbacks took the lead with 20 minutes left when Tyler Allen’s free kick just inside midfield bounced in front of Cowgirl keeper Michela Ongaro and shot into the goal.
Oklahoma State mounted several scoring attempts after Arkansas took the lead, but never got a shot on goal.
“I’m very proud of how this young team came together,” Carmichael said. “Late in the year, I thought we played some really good soccer. We will be back next year — hopefully on to bigger and better things.”