It definitely hasn’t been the season first-year Oklahoma soccer head coach Mark Carr envisioned.
Carr inherited the keys to the OU soccer program in January after spending the last six years with the U.S. Soccer Federation, optimistic about what the 2020 season had in store.
He took the job knowing he would face some immediate challenges, from replacing one of the top players in program history in Kaylee Dao, to moving his family to a new state.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Carr went from working with his new team daily to not being able to see them in-person for weeks. He’s done a great job of dealing with these unprecedented times, but he was quick to point the praise to his team.
“Everything has been so different. New coach, new culture, new personnel, throughout it all these kids haven’t backed down,” Carr said “They come out and fight every week. They are used to adversity and they attack it and outwork it. I’m just proud of them.”
Oklahoma (0-7-1) suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to in-state rival Oklahoma State (6-2-1) Thursday night in Norman, finishing its 2020 home slate without a victory.
While not getting the outcome they wanted, the Sooners fought till the very end — something that has characterized the team all season, despite losing six games by one goal.
Through it all, Carr’s poise has remained the same, too. He’s been unphased, persistent and kept competing. That same mentality was seen in the Sooners effort Thursday.
The Cowgirls came out firing, tallying 11 shots to OU’s six in the first half. The Sooners kept battling through, just as their coach wanted. The competitive fire was evident when senior goalkeeper Nikki Panas stopped what seemed like a sure goal midway through the first half with an incredible leaping save.
“Nikki, in my opinion, is one of the best goalkeepers in the Big 12.” Carr said. “She keeps us in games. We rely a lot on her.”
The Sooners kept battling in the second half, coming out hot with three shots in the first 15 minutes.
Oklahoma midfielder Maya McCutcheon almost netted the go-ahead goal for the Sooners in the 54th minute with a strong shot from just outside the box, but Cowgirls goalkeeper Emily Plotz managed to keep OU off the board.
OSU finally broke the tie in the 61st minute, scoring by way of penalty kick off the leg of junior Grace Yochum.
Oklahoma remained resilient, coming back with two consecutive shots of its own from Bri Amos in the 62nd minute. One thing OU didn’t lack the entire night was fight.
The team’s passion was demonstrated best when junior Paige Thomson subbed into the game in the 68th minute and immediately contributed, stopping OSU from taking a two-goal lead with a great defensive effort.
“In the second half there was only one team here tonight.” Carr said. “The results we are getting doesn’t reflect the progress we’ve made. The last 25, 30 minutes there was only one team in that game, and you could see it. Tonight was a great statement for Oklahoma Soccer and what we want to do and where we want to go.”
The Sooners battled all the way to the end but couldn’t find the equalizer. Although it probably isn’t the season Oklahoma wanted, the squad is rolling with the punches and will look to build off those tough moments moving into 2021. Carr believes the future of OU soccer is bright.
“We signed a big recruiting class yesterday of nine, and that is a big injection of talent right away. It will provide immediate competition. I’m real optimistic about the future of this program and where it is going.”