The No. 21 USC women’s soccer team begins the quest for its second national title in three years Friday when it plays its opening game of the 2009 NCAA Tournament against Oklahoma State in Santa Clara, Calif.
The Women of Troy (12-6-2) and the Cowgirls (15-7-0) are already familiar with each other, having played Sept. 18 in Stillwater, Okla., in a game USC won 1-0.
“It’s always difficult to play a team for a second time in a season, especially one we already beat,” USC coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “But I like the matchup we have.”
Oklahoma State comes into the 5:30 p.m. game riding an eight-game winning streak during which it has outscored its opponents 17-3 and posted six shutouts.
“I remember [Oklahoma State] attacked the outsides a lot, and they had a lot of good crossing opportunities,” senior goalkeeper Kristin Olsen said. “We’ve got to limit the chances they have from the outsides and limit their chances on goal.”
Playing in front of Olsen’s net will be Oklahoma State junior forward Annika Niemeier, who leads the Cowgirls with 11 goals on the season.
Senior forward Kasey Langdon, a two-time All-Big 12 honoree, is also a dangerous attacking option for Oklahoma State with five goals on the year.
The Women of Troy will counter with junior midfielder Alyssa Dávila, who leads USC with nine goals and is tied for tops on the team with five assists.
Freshman forward Samantha Johnson, freshman midfielder Courtney Garcia and redshirt senior Marihelen Tomer have all chipped in for USC with four goals each on the season.
The difference-maker for USC could be Olsen, who led the Pac-10 during the regular season with 101 saves and an 83 percent save rate.
“It’s been a luxury to have her since we’ve arrived here,” Khosroshahin said about the starting keeper. “It definitely gives the team a lot more confidence knowing that she’s back there.”
If the Women of Troy defeat Oklahoma State on Friday, they will play the winner of the match between No. 11 Santa Clara (13-6-1) and Michigan State (11-4-4) on Sunday.
USC defeated Santa Clara 2-0 on Sept. 27 on the road, a matchup that got the Women of Troy familiar with the venue for this weekend’s games.
“We’ve been there before, we’re going to stay in the same hotel,” Dávila said. “It helps that we’ve been there.”
Redshirt senior defender Jordan Angeli tops the Broncos with six goals on the year.
Michigan State senior forward Lauren Hill leads the Spartans with 11 goals this season.
The Women of Troy say they are not looking ahead to either the Broncos or Spartans, however, but instead are completely focusing on Oklahoma State.
“Honestly, I don’t let us [look ahead],” Khosroshahin said. “As soon as you look past your opponent, that’s when bad things occur. We’re keeping the focus on what’s ahead and that’s Oklahoma State.”
With a talented yet inexperienced team, USC is not favored to repeat its 2007 success and claim another national title. The Women of Troy are happy, though, to embrace their new role.
“Our bracket’s hard but it’s good. We’re kind of the underdog,” Dávila said. “We really have nothing to lose. We’re playing good teams and we’re just going to go for it.”