Despite the Great American Conference (GAC) cancelling all sports and competitions for the 2019-2020 academic year, the lady bison women’s soccer team earned the number one spot in the 2021 preseason poll. Earning a total of 31 votes, they ranked first over all of the other schools in their conference: Southwestern Oklahoma State, Ouachita Baptist, Harding, East Central, Northwestern Oklahoma State and South Nazarene. The GAC keeps up with all of the women’s team statistics and rankings, showing OBU as one of the top leaders within their conference. Making top two in the number of shots, goals and goals per game, assists and assists per game, points and saves, the OBU women’s soccer team has and continues to be a force to be reckoned with.
Compared to the last competing season, there have been many changes within the soccer team. Senior natural science major Emily Griffith said, “In our competing season of fall 2019, we had an experienced team and made it all the way to the conference championship. We knew how each other played and trusted one another.” She says that the formations have changed after graduating five seniors on the team last spring. “This season we will continue to trust one another on the field and out work other teams. It has been a learning curve this season, but I think it will set us up for success this season with our new and our returning players,” Griffith said.
However, the COVID-19 outbreak left the ladies waiting until February to finally start competing. The NCAA decided in March of 2020 to suspend winter and spring sports and championships for the remainder of the year, with the GAC following suit. Later on, the decision from the GAC allowed sports to start competing again for the 2021 spring season. With this decision came many new changes in protocols to train and compete. One of these changes being that all athletes are to wear face masks when not actively competing, and all coaches when conversing with athletes at both games and practices. Some of these changes, however, started in November with differences in training hours and the training schedule.
In a video interview called “Todd Talk”, head coach Mike White said, “We finished our 45-day segment of training fifteen hours a week. Typically, we would go straight into our eight-hour segment, but new to the division two schools, we must take a fourteen-day break after our 45-day segment.” White commented on OBU’s training compared to other schools as well, saying other schools have an advantage being able to train for a longer period of time and with less breaks.
“I know of several schools in division two that not only are still practicing but have still gotten to play scrimmages and play games. They are not ending their semester at Thanksgiving. So, that will extend their semester into December, which will give them less time off,” White said. Despite this, he is still optimistic of the team. “I’m trusting that my girls will do what they need to do. They know what’s expected of them,” White said. However, this is not the only way new conference rules and COVID protocols have impacted the team.
“I think many of us struggled with not having games for so long, but it didn’t keep us down. The COVID pandemic presented us with bumps and hurdles, but it gave us the time to grow closer together and train even harder in order to be ready for this spring season,” Griffith said. She says that the team is ready to work harder now than ever, with the COVID setbacks along with their standings in the preseason poll.
“Being nominated to finish first in the GAC is an honor, but it in no way keeps us from working hard and training like an underdog. I believe this OBU team understands what it takes to finish first in the conference, but we also are still understanding how to take that title,” Griffith said. The results so far this season speak for themselves.
The ladies pulled out a win against Oklahoma Christian 3-1 at their first game February second, at home. Also at home, the ladies tied against Oklahoma Wesleyan 1-1 just a few days later, February fifth. With these results thus far, the ladies are set up for a strong season and potentially to the championship game. The ladies will continue to compete against those in their conference. Scheduled games are: February16th at home vs Southwestern Christian, February 19th vs Harding in Searcy, Ark., February 26th at home vs South Nazarene, March 6th vs East Central in Ada, Okla., March 9th vs Dallas Baptist, March 13th at home vs Northwestern Oklahoma State, March 27th vs Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford, Okla., April 3rd vs Ouachita at home, and finally, the championship game is scheduled for April 10th -17th, time and place TBA.