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Season Review: Adversity leads to special season for women’s soccer

Courtesy: ORU Media Relations
          Release: 11/18/2013
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TULSA, Okla. – “We always had a next man mentality…”

The 2013 Oral Roberts University women’s soccer broke records, achieved nine-year firsts and reached the Southland Conference semifinals. However, arguably one of the most remarkable achievements of this season’s squad was how the Golden Eagles battled through adversity.

“We always had a next man mentality, which is evident by how we shifted through six different center-backs,” said Head Coach Roger Bush, who led the Golden Eagles to a 15-4-1 mark in his first season. “It was that idea that they could step up and do what was required of them .”

ORU’s 15 victories are a new school record for victories, the Golden Eagles finished a point behind league champion Stephen F. Austin for a second place finish with a 10-2 output, ORU’s highest finish during the regular season since 2004. As the season came to an end, the Golden Eagles had an RPI rating of 51, the highest in program history.

The Golden Eagles also finished the season with a six-match unbeaten streak, as they fell to Southeastern Louisiana in penalty kicks at the Southland Conference Tournament.

Despite shifting players along the backline, the ORU defense allowed just 17 goals this season, shattering the previous school record of 21 in 2003. Anchoring the Golden Eagle backline was sophomore Kaily Cox, who was named the Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year, while Leah Bickers provided key senior leadership.  

Cox was named to the All-Southland Conference First Team and Bickers was named Honorable Mention.

Another key component in the defensive success of the Golden Eagles was the goalkeeper play of Helen Erb and Maddie Rhodes. Entering the year as a Preseason All-Southland selection, Erb started the first five matches of the season before suffering an injury during pregame on September 13 at Oklahoma.

“Within about a minute, the team was able to say, ‘we are behind Maddie, we have faith in her and we believe in her,” mentioned Bush. “Maddie’s a wonderful player and we are blessed to have two great goalkeepers on our team.”

Rhodes, a native of Tulsa, finished the year ranked 23rd in the nation with a goals against average of .670, and 30th with a save percentage of .845. Her goals against average mark is a new single-season ORU record, while she had the third best season in save percentage. The sophomore was named to the All-Southland Second Team.

On the offensive side, the Golden Eagles said goodbye to All-Southland performers Jennifer Abernathy (First Team) and Jordan Parsons (Second Team), as well as starters Lexie Salas and Mary-Kate Halsmer.

Abernathy led the 2013 team that outscored opponents by 30 goals, netting nine and providing nine assists. She finished her career in the top ten in five offensive categories, including fourth in goals (21), sixth in assists (17), fifth in points (59), second in shots (234) and seventh in game-winners (5).

The Tulsa native led the Southland and was 38th nationally with her nine assists.

“She’s a talented and dynamic attacking player with great field vision and great awareness,” said Bush, who was an assistant when Abernathy joined the program in 2010.

Bush said one of the important aspects of the season’s success was the leadership within the program.

“The kids embraced the idea of ‘we will.’ There is always going to be leadership, but there has to be action behind it, and that came from that belief of, ‘we can do this and we can do this together.’”

“The most special and unique part about the group is their devotion to each other,” Bush said about the 2013 squad. “They are willing to serve their teammates, so they were able to take on, and embrace, an attitude of servant leadership. I think that is one thing that is remarkable about them.”

ORU’s season was highlighted by a come from behind victory on September 21 at SFA in Nacogdoches, Texas. Six minutes into the first overtime period, Halsmer placed the ball in the back of the net for the game-winner, providing the Ladyjacks with their only conference loss of the year.

Halsmer, who scored five goals in her senior campaign, had 13 career game-winners, third most in program history. Four of her game-winners came during the 2013 season, including her golden goal against SFA and the previous match versus Arkansas State.

Also coming on during her senior season was a clutch performer was Parsons. She tied the record for game-winners in a season with six, with golden goal at Sam Houston State on October 20.

Despite the outgoing goal scorers, the 2014 roster will still feature 24 returning goals, including All-Southland Second Team selections Kayla Keller who had eight and Megan Giles who netted six.

“We are extremely excited about the group of seniors who will be here next season. They will do a wonderful job of leading the program and we have full confidence and faith in them,” explained Bush. “We already have 23 kids on the roster going into the spring, and they will be a roster that is ready to go and compete. We have lots of work and improvements to make, but we are confident in the 23 we have as of now.”

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