In the season finale for this year’s storybook run by a young Texas team, it would be preferable to ease into the postseason with an opponent on the lower end of the Big 12 standings. But just the opposite awaits the No. 9 Longhorns, as an Oklahoma State team wielding the most explosive offense in the conference will test head coach Angela Kelly and her players ahead of the Big 12 Championship.
Texas has been focused on postseason success ever since the year started, but going through Big 12 competition to get there has posed a significant challenge for both the team and Kelly.
“In this conference there’s so many talented teams,” Kelly said following the road win over Baylor. “On any given night, it’s becoming more and more difficult to steal points.”
Stealing points has been an upside from the many tight contests Texas has found themselves in. Aside from holding the third-highest conference win total in the Big 12, Texas also gained points on ties against TCU and Oklahoma.
The strides Texas has taken in 2017 are evident when analyzing the preseason polls. The Longhorns did not earn a spot in the United Soccer Coaches poll’s top 25 before the season, looking from the outside in as Oklahoma and West Virginia sat ranked. But the Longhorns beat both the Mountaineers and the Sooners in regular-season play and sit above both in the Big 12 standings heading into Friday night.
Texas takes its underdog role seriously. Kelly demands her players focus on the match at hand and not lose sight of their next opponent.
“You’re only as good as your last practice, and you’re only as good as your last match,” Kelly said. “Anytime you rest on laurels, this game will come back and bite you.”
But while the Longhorns may be underdogs, there is certainly no shortage of talent on the roster. Sophomore Cyera Hintzen leads the Big 12 in points and goals scored, and goalkeeper Nicole Curry leads the conference in shutouts and is second in save percentage. Both players will make the Longhorns a tough out in the conference tournament.
As prolific as Hintzen and freshman striker Haley Berg have been on the offensive end, the Cowgirls boast a similar dynamic duo up top. Oklahoma State freshman forward Taylor Olsen and junior forward Haley Woodard top the conference in goals combined for two players on the same team with 13, leaving Berg and Hintzen trailing a goal behind, tied in second place with 12. That, along with Oklahoma State’s 11 goals-scored lead over any other team in the Big 12, will prove a definitive assessment of the Longhorns’ stout defense heading into future games.
Kickoff against the current first-place Big 12 team in Oklahoma State will be at 7 p.m. on Friday night at Mike A. Myers Stadium.
A Texas win would would secure a top-three seed prior to the start of postseason play. The Big 12 Championships start on Nov. 1.