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Guns Blazin': OSU sports report

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Guns Blazin': OSU sports report

Sports fans live for favorites, and — in the case of some European soccer fans — have died for favorites. May they rest in peace.

But Oklahoma State fans can have heaven on earth this fall as the Division-I sports action takes over all of Red Dirt country.

Mike Gundy and the football team is five games deep and will soon complete one of the most entertaining homecoming weekends in the country with Saturday’s game against Texas Christian University.

And although only three home football games remain after TCU, there are 26 other opportunities to catch the Cowboys and Cowgirls playing one of five spectacular spectator sports.


Gundy preps the Cowboys for Homecoming, history

A 4-1 record hasn’t always drawn a lot of criticism at Oklahoma State, but this week coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich found themselves defending the offense’s speed and consistency.

Gundy’s defense of starting quarterback JW Walsh could tell a lot about what he thinks about the criticism that flies around.

“I think anytime that you’re a quarterback you get a lot of credit when you’re winning and playing well,” Gundy said. “If you’re not playing as well as some people think you should then you get too much of the blame.” 

Before the season, the offense was billed as one of the fastest moving units and the defense as one of the most aggressive. But against West Virginia and Kansas State, the team was a combined 11-32 on third down- with six three-and-outs against WVU alone.

“At times, you have to take your foot off the gas pedal with regard to tempo in order to do that sort of thing,” Yurcich said.

Gundy has lead the Cowboys to nine wins in three of the past four seasons, and Saturday’s homecoming game against Texas Christian could be paramount in continuing that trend.

Ford ready to tie the bow on team

The return of Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown has raised national expectations for the team going into the 2013-2014 season.

 “Final Four, I keep saying that but that’s just how we feel right now,” Nash said. “That’s what is driving all of us.”

To the surprise of many, Smart chose another year in Stillwater over being a top-5 pick in the NBA draft. Staying for his sophomore year enables Smart to improve his overall game. Early indications are Smart has stepped up his leadership.

“He is being more vocal as far as calling plays out and being extremely vocal, period,” OSU coach Travis Ford said.

Stevie Clark is looking to follow in the footsteps of Nash and Smart of freshmen making an immediate impact.

“He has a great feel for the game,” Ford said.

Clark and sophomore guard Phil Forte have battled each other all of training camp. Both players lack ideal size but have reputations of being lights-out shooters. Clark has fought to establish himself to the team and Forte wants to hold his ground as the team’s top perimeter player.

“They always having competitive battles,” Brown. “I think it’s good for the team.”

Leyton Hammonds is the buzz of training camp. Hammonds, a freshman from North Richland Hills, Texas, has impressed coaches and players with his athleticism and size.

“He’s been playing really well,” Brown said. “I can see big things from him this year.”

Ford has a good idea of what his rotation is going to look like. He has built a roster top heavy with veteran talent. Junior post Marek Soucek has the potential to see quality minutes this season but his up and down trend in practice leaves Ford unable to gauge Soucek’s ability.

“He can be in that top eight (players on the team), then there is days where he is not in the top 20,” Ford said. “He’s been the face of inconsistency.” 

Experienced Cowgirls a threat on Big 12 hardcourt

A 22-11 record and second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament marked a solid season for the Oklahoma State Cowgirls a year ago, but even bigger things could be on the horizon.

Although OSU lost power forward Toni Young to the WNBA’s New York Liberty, the team returns four starters in Tiffany Bias, Liz Donohoe, Brittney Martin and Kendra Suttles.

“As a team I think we have big goals,” Bias said. “I think we want to win the Big 12 and see where that takes us. I think we can have a deep run in the tournament.”

Even with the influx of a talented recruiting class highlighted by center Marisha Wallace and guard Lakota Beatty, the Cowgirls’ biggest challenge will be replacing the inside presence brought by Young.

“We don’t have anybody in the gym that can match her athleticism,” coach Jim Littell said.

“We have to find a different way to make up her points and rebounds. Not one person is going to do it, we’ve got to do it collectively.”

And with former Baylor star Brittney Griner finally moved on to the WNBA, the Cowgirls are set on being in the hunt for a now wide open Big 12 title.

“I think it’s anybody’s to win,” Bias said. “I think we’re ready and we can take it.”

Holliday harvests momentum after first season

The last time the Oklahoma State baseball competed against an opponent it was at Patterson Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky.

Oklahoma State reached the finals of the NCAA Louisville regional by defeating Miami 7-1 in an elimination game. Shortly after, the Cowboys fell 12-3 to Louisville in the finals, ending the first season under Josh Holliday.

Considering the circumstances of a revamped coaching staff and relatively young roster, the Pokes exceeded expectations.  Holliday and company tallied 41 wins in his first season and helped OSU reach an NCAA regional for the first time since 2009.

A number of accomplishments were achieved in the spring. OSU had 11 players garner All-Big 12 accolades and had two players sign professional contracts. It was the second-straight year that the program produced first-round draft picks, too.

The Cowboys are going through a battery of fall practices and scrimmages. During the fall, baseball can become individualized and players begin to focus on personal achievements.  Coach Holliday said that one of the keys to success is playing as a team.

“Ultimately, forming a team concept is important,” Holliday said. “I think if we accomplish that in the fall, we have a really good chance in the spring to really come together and be a team on the field.”

Oklahoma State concludes its fall workouts with a best-of-five series Oct 23-29.  

Softball has the upper hand with a pair of aces

The Oklahoma State softball team is 5-1 with two games against Arkansas left on its fall schedule and one long winter break awaiting.

The Cowgirls were disappointed with last season’s 30-26 finish, but the 6-12 Big 12 record hurt worse.

Coach Rich Wieligman said he is confident the girls will be ready for the coming season.

“I think this team has definitely established that they’re not afraid to work,” Wieligman said. “They know what they need to do, it’s just a matter of trying to improve each day and get ready for the season.”

The Cowgirls have four seniors on its young team, two of which are pitcher Simone Freeman and first baseman/designated hitter Tarah Ettinger.

Freshman picture Meagan Lively is a welcomed addition to the Cowgirls team. Lively had a no-hitter with two outs remaining in the exhibition game against Independence Community College and showed a powerful fastball.

            “I’m very impressed with her, she’s done a good job,” Wieligman said. “There’s certain things as a pitcher just like another other player, you can’t teach and that’s one thing, she throws the ball hard. You know as coach [Kelsi] Dunne works with her and masters her pitches I think she’ll be fun to watch.”

Men's and women's tennis have toughest days behind them

The Cowboys and the Cowgirls don’t begin collegiate play until next semester, but both teams are in full swing.

During the fall, Oklahoma State’s tennis programs compete in university-sponsored invitationals and tournaments the Intercollegiate Tennis Association puts on in preparation for the spring.

The Cowboys have competed in the ITA All-American Championships and the F26 and F27 Futures, which the International Tennis Federation puts on, among other events. Sebastian Sachs and Jakob Sude, who both came to Oklahoma State from Germany, have highlighted the team’s performance during the fall.

Although few players made long runs in these tournaments, coach Jay Udwadia said that gaining experience is the key to success in collegiate play.

“The competition we have faced in those tournaments is some of the best we're going to face all year,” Udwadia said. “Our guys have done a great job so far of competing against no matter who they're matched up with, especially with international and professional players competing in ITF play.”

The Cowgirls, highlighted by the fourth-ranked recruiting class in the nation, won the singles and doubles titles at the Missouri Invitational in Kansas City.

Megan McCray, a freshman out of Oceanside, Calif., was crowned the singles champion. The duo of Kanyapat Narattana and Carla Tur Mari took home the doubles title for Oklahoma State.

The Cowgirls have three competitions left in the fall, and two events remain on the Cowboys schedule. The teams finish play in early November. 

Smith and the Cowboys in good position on the mats

Oklahoma State began its quest for a 35th national wrestling title when the team began practice on Thursday.

The Cowboys, who finished second in the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships, return seven starters across 10 weight classes from last season. Five All-Americans in Jon Morrison, Alex Dieringer, Tyler Caldwell, Chris Perry and Blake Rosholt are back on the mat for Oklahoma State.

Coach John Smith said the team’s strength will be tested from the start of the season. The Cowboys third meet of the season is against Minnesota, which placed third at nationals last year.

“This season, I feel like we have a stronger team yet we’ve come out ranked fifth or sixth in some of the preseason rankings,” Smith said. “It just tells us that there are some teams that have stepped up. This kind of matchup (against Minnesota) is going to tell you where you’re at real quickly and what your deficiencies are. They’re really strong, and I think they might be one of the best teams in the country.”

Chris Perry, the defending NCAA champion at 174 pounds, traveled Europe in a busy summer of elite competition.

He said that his experiences have helped him prepare to defend his first national title.

“I learned a lot over there,” Perry said. “I got the opportunity to train with some of the best guys in the world, and it sets me in reality with college wrestling. Those guys (in college) are good, but they aren’t at that (international) level.

“I feel like I’m one of the best guys in the world, and it gives me the confidence to go out and start dominating more.”

A new day for Cowboy golf

It’s been one of the busiest summers in the history of Oklahoma State’s men’s golf program.

After an incredible freshman season, Jordan Niebrugge won four amateur events in the summer months and earned an invite to the 2014 Masters Golf Tournament.

The honorable mention All-American is one of several highly ranked golfers on this experienced squad.

Alan Bratton took over as coach in June and has established a few of his own coaching practices along with assistant coach, Brian Guetz, who has seen progress even without a tournament win.

“Our guys collectively had a great summer,” Guetz said. “In our first two events, there’s some play that hasn’t translated too well. We got beat by 20 and 21 shots. There’s your barometer, we got beat by two of the best teams in the country, so its not like we lost by two or three. If you lose by 20, that could be concerning. But I believe in our guys and the talent that we have. Its’ up to Coach Bratton and I to get these guys prepared here at home. Good golf rears its head in different ways, but it’s about being prepared.

Cowgirl golf adds a trophy to its new era

The women’s golf team is in great shape heading into the winter break.

The Cowgirls have depth; the team won the Schooner Invitational last week without star sophomore Julie Yang.

Yang has gone off to qualifying school, where she is trying for the first time to drop amateur status for the professional ranks.

The Cowgirls are in good hands in Stillwater, though. Courtney Jones, 29, took over the program during the summer when Alan Bratton was transferred to the men’s program, and Jones has excelled in her new role.

She credits her supporting staff.

We have some great leadership with our seniors taking the freshmen under the wings, that’s what you always want to see,” Jones said. “And it’s great to have coach (Par Nilsson) here, all the girls are excited to have him on our team.”

Jones brought Nilsson on as her assistant and the move makes historical sense. Nilsson played for OSU from 2000-04 and was a two-time All-American. Five of OSU’s six coaches from the previous four years were former players.

Soccer stays steady in a tough conference

The Cowgirl soccer team has had to deal with many challenges this season and has scooted its way to a 5-3-5 record.

But coach Colin Carmichael has the team in position to make a run in the conference tournament with hopes of qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

Freshman forward Courtney Dike has led the team with eight goals and two assists. The Cowgirls are looking forward to two big home matchups this week against rival Texas on Friday night and then a non-conference matchup with Missouri State on Sunday.

The team is coming off an encouraging week. OSU beat the University of Oklahoma in a Bedlam classic and tied TCU in overtime.

Carmichael has a positive outlook on the coming weekend.

“We are hoping to build on our performance,” Carmichael said. “We beat Oklahoma, which is always big, and at the time they were playing well, so we were fortunate to get the win.

“We talked about how well we played and will continue to improve. But we have a big challenge with Texas coming up and were excited and ready to play.”

Cross country teams set the national pace

Oklahoma State’s cross country teams are breaking records on the course and in the polls.

The men’s team has held the top-ranked spot in the country for eight consecutive weeks, and the women are in the top 20 two weeks in a row for the first time since Smith took over.

“It’s been great to see the men at the top and the women moving into the top 20 this season,” Smith said. “Hopefully they use the rankings as motivation to perform at a high level and back up those rankings as we move further along in the season.”

The two-month-long streak is a small piece of a greater chunk of achievement.

OSU had a chance to win three straight national championships in 2011. Coach Dave Smith and his racing Cowboys failed to do it but they didn’t let the momentum die. The team returned in 2012 to grab its third title in four years.

Rankings come from the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll. 

Equestrian team finds its place in the top 10

John Wayne would call them handsome fillies, but the members of the Oklahoma State Equestrian team are champions.

Larry Sanchez led the Cowgirls to a national championship in the western riding discipline earlier this spring and was rewarded in May as the Big 12 and National Collegiate Equestrian Association coach of the year.

The Cowgirls also finished the season with seven all-American riders and eight all-conference riders, an impressive feat in the Big 12, which features four teams ranked in the top-10 nationally.

The team will travel to Waco, Texas, next Saturday to ride against Baylor in the second conference matchup of the season.