In the eyes of the Oklahoma State soccer team, postseason play has arrived a game early.
OSU (10-5-1 overall, 2-5-1 Big 12) requires at least a draw against TCU at 7 p.m. Thursday to qualify for the Big 12 tournament. A loss to the Horned Frogs (11-4-2, 4-3-1) and an Iowa State victory against Kansas State would doom the Cowgirls.
Associate head coach Justin Elkington said the Cowgirls are prepared to play the most important game of the season at Neal Patterson Stadium.
“We just look at it on ourselves like, 'It’s postseason already,’" Elkington said. “It’s survive and advance. So we’ve got a game plan in place to deal with the strength of TCU, and hopefully we’ll come through it. The group is upbeat and really optimistic. We’ll put in a good shift and see what will happen.”
Scoring has been the problem for OSU throughout conference play. The Cowgirls found the net five times in the opening weekend against Kansas and Kansas State. Since then, they have scored only three times.
OSU was projected to finish second at the start of the season, but injuries and a six-game winless streak sent the Cowgirls on a downward slide. Despite the imminent pressure, laughter and optimism surrounded Neal Patterson Stadium during OSU’s Wednesday afternoon training.
Midfielder Jaci Jones said the Cowgirls will try to finish the regular season strong, though a draw is enough to qualify for the tournament.
“Obviously we didn’t have the best ending of the season, but we can use the game (Thursday) as a foundation to build on that,” Jones said. “Obviously a draw will get us in, but a win is kind of backing to that winning column. You don’t want just to tie a game whether it is get you in or not. Nobody wants to tie a game.”
During a game against Iowa State on Sunday, redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Dani Greenlee was subbed off in the 16th minute after a collision with an opposing player.
OSU has rotated goalkeepers throughout the season. Without Greenlee, who didn’t practice Wednesday, Hannah Warner will stay between the posts the entire game. As long as she can help the Cowgirls keep a clean sheet for the first time since 10 matches ago, they will get the job done.
“We have been training a lot on the situations that might come up,” Warner said. “The whole team has to work as a unit. If we don’t do that, we will break down. The reason why we haven’t (been) scoring is because we haven’t (been) pushing up together and helped each other out. Defense, we have girls coming in and out. I think we are prepared for (Thursday).”
Iowa State will kick off against the last-place Wildcats at the same time as the Cowgirls’ match. If the Cyclones can’t get a victory, OSU will qualify for the tournament regardless of the outcome against TCU. The Cowgirls are controlling their destiny, and Jones said she has no plan to keep up with updates from Ames, Iowa.
“(Iowa State’s game) doesn’t matter,” Jones said. “If we win the game, we have control over our destiny. So whatever they do it doesn’t matter. If we win, we’ll take care of business, and we’ll be fine.”