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Shocking the World: Lushkova and Cowgirls continue breaking barriers on their path to the National Title game

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Viktoriya Lushkova

Oklahoma State's Viktoriya Lushkova came back against Cal's Lynn Chi to give the Cowgirls the decided victory in a 4-3 victory over the Bears and send the team to its first National Championship.

TULSA —  Katarina Adamovic couldn't bear to watch the final moments of the most important match in program history.

Viktoriya Lushkova sealed Oklahoma State’s dreams of playing for a National Championship as the Cowgirls defeated No. 1 seed California 4-3 in the Michael D. Case Tennis Center on Monday.

“I just feel like God is watching over this program and has given us opportunities to do something special,” OSU coach Chris Young said. “I knew we had the potential and these girls are showing that they are definitely capable.”

The upper-level of the Michael D. Case Tennis Center was filled with orange, as the semifinal match was to be played inside due to rain. Half the crowd was standing, trying to do whatever they could to see over and around the person in front of them, and the other half was sitting on the edge of their seat ready to burst in excitement as the Cowgirls and Golden Bears were tied at 3.

Each time, a different player stood up for 12-seed OSU. In the Elite Eight against Ohio State, it was Katarina Stresnakova. This time, it was Lushkova’s turn.

At the beginning of the season, Lushkova was moved down to the No. 3 singles position. She did not let that bother her, though, as she kept playing her game. She has a history of finishing off her opponents rather quickly and worked her way up to the No. 66 singles.

Young said that the Cowgirls would not be where they are if Lushkova did not thrive in that role. Young said she has been the most consistent Cowgirl all season.

“I never thought of the numbers; I just knew it was good for the team – it is always for the team,” Lushkova said.

Her opponent Monday was a stiff competitor. No. 80 Lynn Chi was the runner-up in the NCAA Singles Championship in 2014.

Young’s faith was unwavering as he said he would still take Lushkova every time.

Chi frustrated Lushkova early in the first set as she hit shots that Lushkova could not even find a way to hit back. If it was an over-the-head, drop or a blazing fast baseline shot, Chi was hitting it. Lushkova dropped that first set, but she fought back to win the second set and force a third.

Lushkova then took a bathroom break, and things changed. She came out smiling after she talked to teammates Carla Tur Mari and Stresnakova in the bathroom.

“She never smiles during a match, so I was like, 'All right, that is good,'” Young said.

Lushkova went into the third set swinging with her usual no-fear mentality. She led the deciding set, 4-2, and won the next game after a crucial point with it tied 40-40.

The Cowgirls could sense the impending victory.

The OSU faithful were in the background ready to explode in celebration. Athletic Director Mike Holder, softball coach Kenny Gajewski and the entire OSU softball team were in Tulsa supporting the Cowgirls. Fans were even standing on top of the bleachers so they could see action.

Lushkova led 40-30 when Chi returned a shot into the net.

The players rushed her and the celebration began.

Young said he joked with Lushkova that this was going to be her day to go to the interview room, as she was going to be the last match to finish. All Lushkova could do was laugh.

“No one is going to beat (Lushkova) right now – it is just a fact,” Young said. “And when the match is on the line, she is as tough as anybody. It has been that way since day one.”

The Cowgirls drew a line after the spring break, and Young said he believed that his team could go all the way ever since Big 12 play started. Since then, OSU has won 18 straight matches, and have gone 31-1 in doubles, which leads the NCAA.

OSU (29-4) and its players began to realize this season was different.

“We are Oklahoma State,” Young said. “I think we are the only ones that believed this was possible all year.”

Young said he wants his team to be like Vanderbilt, who ended last year on a hot streak on its way to win the 2015 National Championship. Young said he believes that OSU is having a similar season and it is going to be that team this year.

“Why can’t that be us?” Young said.

The theme for the Cowgirls this NCAA tournament has been simple: overcome.

OSU won the doubles point handily with No. 79 Vladica Babic and Adamovic winning 6-0, along with No. 54 Carla Tur Mari and Lushkova’s 6-2 victory. It took a 1-0 lead going to singles, but California started out singles strong, winning four of the six first sets.

Kelsey Laurente and No. 47 Adamovic were the lone Cowgirls to win their first sets.

Tur Mari was closed out 6-1, 6-2 on court 6, and California tied the match at 1.

The momentum shifted as the Cowgirls started to rally in the second sets.

Adamovic was dominating and Laurente was consistent, while Babic and Lushkova were leading their second sets.

Stresnakova lost her first set, and battled a left leg injury as she had the trainer wrapped it up in the second set. She fought back to tie that set 3-3, but ultimately could not pull through in a 6-2, 6-4 loss.

This gave California (23-2) its first lead, but it was not held for long.

Laurente won her match 6-4, 6-3 on court 4 against No. 88 Denise Starr. OSU tied the match back up at 2-2.

No. 47 Adamovic has played likely the stiffest competition of any player in the tournament since the Sweet Sixteen. She defeated No. 5 Ellen Perez of Georgia in the Sweet Sixteen, forced a third set against No. 3 Francesca Di Lorenzo of Ohio State that went unfinished and faced No. 7 Maegan Manasse on Monday.

Adamovic played well in the first set, and after being tied at 4-4, she went on a tear. She won seven games in a row to win the set 6-4 and start with a 5-0 lead in the second set.

“I made some shots that I shouldn’t, but I stayed focused and played each point,” Adamovic said.

She closed out the set 6-2 on court 1 and yelled her Serbian accent chants to the heavens once again, and the OSU crowd roared back with excitement because its Cowgirls led 3-2.

Young was never worried that Lushkova was going to lose the match. After OSU won its first two singles matches, he was confident.

"I knew we were good to go,” Young said.

OSU is breaking barriers. Young said the unpopular fact is certain pro or college sports teams are in line to be more successful. He said OSU isn’t traditionally one of those teams.

“To break those barriers down you have to have special kids – that’s what we have,” Young said. “Oklahoma State is a special place, and we are all very fortune to be here.”

Adamovic remembers from the first time she stepped on campus that OSU has always been doubted and is put down – this year was no different. Adamovic said even after winning the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles there were doubters who said the Cowgirls didn’t play in a tough conference.

“I know all nine players on our team have hearts, and we keep proving them wrong,” Adamovic said. “We keep proving people wrong – they are wrong about us. We are good, and we are not done yet.”

OSU has never won an NCAA Women’s National Championship in any sport, but it will face Stanford at noon in Michael D. Case Tennis Center on Tuesday.

OSU has had a magic NCAA run, and it wants to send a message about who the Cowgirls are.

“(The girls) wanted to send a message to show people what Oklahoma State is all about.” Young said. “It has never been a lack of talent – it is a matter of belief.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the winner of the semifinal match between Vanderbilt and Stanford.

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