By JASON ELMQUIST
STILLWATER — The Oklahoma State women’s soccer team opens Big 12 Conference play this weekend, and the conference office did no favors for the four-time defending Big 12 champions.
The Cowgirls will open on the road against two of the top teams considered to be threats to OSU’s reign over the Big 12 — Kansas and West Virginia.
But not only are the Cowgirls facing Kansas (6-2-1) and West Virginia, they are having to bus up to Lawrence, Kan., for Friday’s contest then will have to fly out of Kansas City to play in Morgantown, W.V., on Sunday.
“We just have to have some mental toughness,” OSU senior Megan Marchesano said. “Together as a group we just have to be mentally tough. It’s always hard to go on the road and play against good competition. ... So you just have to be strong as a group, which I think we can do.”
Last season, the Cowgirls rolled to a 5-1 drubbing of the Jayhawks in Stillwater. Sunday’s contest with the Mountaineers (4-3-3) will mark the first-ever meeting between the programs on the pitch.
While the upperclassmen haven’t quite experienced this type of travel, they have had plenty of chances to travel to outside of the Big 12 — such as last year’s Elite Eight contest in Stanford, Calif. With that in mind, it’s the freshman that OSU coach Colin Carmichael is most worried about heading into the Big 12 season.
“The Kansas game won’t be an issue, it’s a normal bus ride up. It’s the tough travel day on Saturday that could be the tough one,” Carmichael said. “The returning players have been there, done that. It’s the new kids that haven’t. But our thing is, everybody has to do it at some stage and it certainly won’t excuse if it doesn’t go our way on Sunday.
“Make no mistake, it’s difficult. But other teams have to do it, so we’ll just deal with it.”
Oklahoma State heads into Big 12 action riding a three-game winning streak since a shocking 1-0 loss to Bedlam rival Oklahoma in a non-conference match-up.
“I think winning 4-0 the Sunday after the loss really helped us put it behind us,” the OSU coach said. “I think the rematch with OU is still in everybody’s mind a little bit, but we also understand we have other games to play. OU isn’t our end-all, be-all. We have other fish to fry.”
Included in the three-game win streak was a last-minute victory over North Texas — the second game this year OSU has scored the game-winner in the final 10 minutes of play.
“It definitely gives us a lot more emotional maturity,” Marchesano said. “It’s really helped bring us together as a team. ... It’s helped us become a lot closer and see what it’s like to be on top, but also to see what it’s like to struggle and lose. I think that’s an important lesson we’ve learned with both aspects of it.”
Jason Elmquist is sports editor for The Stillwater NewsPress.