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New stadium, fan support boost Cowgirls’ home-field advantage

Bedlam Soccer 2018

Fans in Neal Patterson Stadium celebrate after the Cowgirls score. 

Haley Woodard pushed the ball into the middle of the field, shaking her defender for just enough separation.

With her right foot, Woodard delivered a strike past the leaping goalkeeper’s arms and into the top right corner of the net.

The crowd at Neal Patterson Stadium burst into excitement as the score capped the Oklahoma State women’s soccer team’s victory against San Francisco.

After the final whistle, the players made their routine victory lap around the north end of the complex, giving high fives to fans in the student section who came out to support them.

In the first six games at the Cowgirls’ new stadium, they haven’t lost. They’ve scored 14 goals while allowing only three. They picked up a signature victory, taking down then-No.5 Florida in a double-overtime thriller.

But OSU playing well at home is nothing new. The Cowgirls went undefeated in Stillwater last season, while Neal Patterson Stadium was nothing but an unfinished concrete structure bordering the grass field.

They have an 18-game undefeated streak on their home turf going back to the end of the 2016 season.

“I think every team is better at home,” coach Colin Carmichael said. “But for us I know our kids enjoy playing in front of our fans. Especially this year, it’s really a great environment.”

Although the Cowgirls have been playing well at home for years, the new stadium is a huge boost for OSU’s home-field advantage.

Before this season, the Cowgirls’ home was only a field with a standard set of bleachers on the the west side of the pitch.

But this year, the complex is a proper stadium rather than just a simple field, featuring a main grandstand covered with a massive awning and a new student section.

The place isn’t finished yet, with an incomplete press box, locker room and video board, but once completed, it will stand as one of the top college soccer complexes in the country.

“We’ve just started to take pride in our field,” Woodard said. “Especially now, with all this, it’s like, ‘Nobody else deserves to come in here and win in this place.’

“We just take home games really seriously. We really embrace the crowd and all the fans that come, and that really helps us.”

Freshman Ally Jackson is used to playing on a grand stage. She played high school soccer at Allen High School in Texas, with her home games in Eagle Stadium, which has a capacity of 18,000.

Granted, the seats weren’t full for soccer games, though Jackson said it was a spectacle to play in a place like that.

But she said it doesn’t compare to the atmosphere of Neal Patterson Stadium.

“It’s a lot better,” Jackson said. “Everyone just cheering for you on Friday nights and Sundays is just amazing and something I can never forget.”

Increased fan support is also a benefit of the Cowgirls’ new home.

In the season opener against Oklahoma, a record 4,122 fans attended the match, smashing the program’s previous record.

Although the Cowgirls are unlikely to see another crowd like that, they still bring in a good turnout every match. The energy fans provide is obvious.

As supporters and children fill the seats in the main grandstand, a fan group called the Orange Outlaws reside in the new student section. People can hear them almost nonstop throughout the games, banging drums and leading the stadium in chants.

Someone who listens closely might hear cheers coming from outside the stadium.

On the east end of the complex, across from the main grandstand, is Booker Hall. Residents living on the west side of the building have a clear view of the field.

A group of students deemed the “Booker Boys” decided to take advantage of the view from their third-floor dorm room, watching every home game from their perch. They hang signs for the Cowgirls on the red brick wall beneath their windows for games and practices.

“The Orange Outlaws right behind us do a great job and the Booker Boys,” freshman Grace Yochum said.

“Everyone is just here to support us, and they love on us, and it makes us push that much harder.”

Coming off two road wins to open Big 12 play, the Cowgirls and their home-field advantage were put to the test this weekend. Friday, Texas made its way to Stillwater for an anticipated conference showdown.

Ranked eighth in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, the Longhorns have looked like OSU’s biggest threat to its Big 12 title defense, but the Cowgirls held their own during a 1-1 match. Although it was OSU's first home draw of the season, the Cowgirls protected their unbeaten record in Stillwater.

They were happy to take on that challenge under the lights of Neal Patterson Stadium.

“It’s just taking pride in the fact that you don’t want to lose at home and you want to defend your home turf,” Carmichael said.

“Our kids take that very personally."

sports.ed@ocolly.com