OU soccer: Strong start has Sooners looking toward big season

Oklahoma senior defender Kristina O'Donnell dribbles the ball during the Sooners' 1-0 season-opening victory over Albany. The Sooners meet Bedlam rival Oklahoma State in a non-conference game Thursday night at John Crain Field.

NORMAN, Okla. — The day before Bedlam, Oklahoma’s Kaylee Dao was speaking about the Sooner soccer team, of which she is a senior captain.

“We’re a scrappy group,” she said, “and if we show up and just put in the work ethic and the energy …”

She was going to that old thing about outworking the opponent, a favorite among athletes and coaches.

Everybody says that’s their plan, but do they really execute it? Isn’t everybody trying hard?

Dao, however, has a legitimate leg to stand on thanks to what’s already happened this season, one that has OU (2-0) unbeaten as it awaits Oklahoma State (1-0) for a 7 p.m. non-conference kick this evening at John Crain Field.

That’s because three days earlier, the Sooners — picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 by the conference’s coaches — stunned Arkansas, a program that reached the NCAA’s round of 32 last season, even in Fayetteville, and did it with a superior work ethic.

In overtime of a scoreless game, Lauren Tovy dribbled along the right side as other Sooners crashed the Hogs' penalty box. One of them, Dao, was pulled down by Arkansas’ Bryana Hunter.

Rather than look for a call or watch the action from the turf, Dao beat Hunter back to her feet and was right there when Hailey Davidson’s shot off Tovy’s cross rebounded toward her in front of the net.

Dao put it away, a golden goal, possibly announcing the Sooners as a team to be reckoned with this season.

A year ago, OU didn’t claim its second victory until the season’s sixth contest, against South Florida on Sept. 7.

A mid-season resurgence offered a some promise, but five of six losses to finish the season, including a first-round conference tourney exit, made for a second straight season without reaching the NCAA’s field of 64.

This time around the Sooners will be looking to reach the NCAA tournament for only the third time in program history, having made it previously in 2003 and 2010. They'll also be looking for their first winning season since their 2016 NCAA trip.

“We’re fit and we can run,” Dao said. “So as long as we bring that work ethic and that kind of engagement into each game, I’m confident that we will compete in every single game, no matter who we play.”

OU has scored only two goals this season, and scored just 28 in 19 games last season, posting more than two only twice.

This season, though, the Sooners are yet to be scored upon, getting one shutout each from goalkeepers Megan McClay and Nikki Panas.

“I think as we go throughout the season, we’ll find those goal-scorers and those personalities that have the ability to put the ball away,” said Kristina O’Donnell, also a senior captain. “But, as long as we’re scoring more than our opponent, that’s al we need.”

Dao, who plays all over the field, wherever coach Matt Potter believes he needs her, is OU’s leading returning goal scorer with six.

Additionally, Ivanna Rivas tallied five goals last season and she’s back, Davidson tallied four.

The Sooners may be in search of a set-up artist. Megan Reilly assisted three times a year ago, more than any other returning teammate.

Also, for this bunch of Sooners, it may begin from the goal-mouth forward.

“Our MO is being organized defensively. For us, a good defense is a good offense,” Dao said. “You need to score, but that can come from a lockdown defense.”

Suiting up 13 freshman is not often a recipe for huge success, yet for the Sooners a roster shakeup could be a positive coming off two trying seasons.

So far, so good, at least.

“Having these two wins, we’ve kind of talked to ourselves and told us that we have the ability to be a really good program,” O’Donnell said, “and we're on our way there.”

Bedlam

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma

Time: 7 p.m. today

Place: John Crain Field

Records: OSU 1-0, OU 2-0

TV: FSSW+ (Cox 68)

Radio: KREF-AM 1400

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