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Cowgirls face possible Big 12 elimination after Senior Day loss

Oklahoma State vs. Iowa State

Cowgirls surround Rachel VanFossen with an injury on the field during the match against Iowa State at Neil Patterson Stadium on Oct. 21, 2018.

It was a Senior Day scenario for veteran players to step up, but the Cowgirls didn’t have any available.

The Oklahoma State soccer team needed at least a draw against Iowa State to clinch a spot in the Big 12 tournament.

Iowa State pushed past the Cowgirls 2-0, handing them their fifth consecutive defeat.

OSU seniors Marlo Zoller, Haley Woodard and Megan Royall weren’t dressed in uniform for the game. The only available senior, Rachel VanFossen, also suffered an injury and was subbed off minutes after checking back into the game in the second half.

Along with losing their seniors, the Cowgirls (10-6-1 overall, 2-5-1 Big 12) are facing a big problem. A loss against TCU might be the end of their season, only a year fresh off winning the Big 12 title.

During a quick ceremony after the final whistle, the emotions of Senior Day overtook the frustration of a loss. Royall, Zoller, Woodard and VanFossen received flowers and ovations from the crowd. Tears fell from the eyes of seniors and other OSU players.

“The seniors have done a great job,” said OSU coach Colin Carmichael. “They were the big part helping us winning the Big 12 championship last year, and that is what they will be remembered for. It is always sad when the seniors go, but they will always be remembered for a lot of positive contributions for our program.

All of them have been a part of the program’s growth. OSU was a Big 12 champion and made two NCAA tournaments in their tenure, and the Cowgirls received a new stadium. VanFossen recalled her experience with the program after transferring from Arkansas.

“It is great to be a part of the program that has been changed a lot,” VanFossen said. “We finally moved from a tent to a dorm. It is great to be a part (of) the amazing stadium and the facilities.

Zoller and Woodard’s usual impact on the field was clearly felt when they couldn’t play. In OSU’s second straight game without both of them, the Cowgirls controlled the possession and threatened ISU (3-13-2, 1-6-1). OSU had several deliveries into the 18-yard box, but none of the players could have a perfect touch to convert the chances into goals.

“(Zoller and Woodard) are both my roommates, and it is kind of tough because I was the only (senior) able to play,” VanFossen said.

Off the field, the seniors are inspirations to freshmen such as midfielder Grace Yochum, who said they helped her get used to playing college soccer.

“When I came here, I was terrified, to say the least,” Yochum said. “They pushed us, they told us we are going to be a good team and we got to work with each other. They have our back if they want, and we have got their back.”

For Royall, a career at OSU was somewhat unorthodox. She served as an understudy to goalkeeper Michela Ongaro in her first three years and didn’t get to see the field in a game. Her final season was cut short with a Tommy John surgery.

Dani Greenlee, who also spent three years as a backup goalkeeper before finally getting her opportunity this season, cited Royall as an ideal teammate.

“(I learned from her) maturity and how to be a good teammate more than everything,” Greenlee said. “Megan is one of the best teammates. She supports you through everything, and it doesn’t matter who you are and if you are above her or below her. That is a really hard role to play because you don’t get many minutes and you are not honored as much. I think she takes on that role that strong, and she is a great (role) model, and she always works hard.”

OSU will face TCU on Thursday in a do-or-die game with a relatively young roster. A season with high expectations didn’t go the way the Cowgirls wanted to be because of injuries, but Carmichael said the future is bright for this team.

“I think we will be fine,” Carmichael said. “We are down five kids that are projected to start this year, and I don’t think too many programs can withstand that and play at the same level. Bad news is we are learning on the fly and so many young players are getting thrown in more than they should. At the same time, it will make them better in the future.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com