KSU Splits Opening Weekend

KSU’s soccer team opened up the 2013 season with a double feature in Tennessee this weekend, facing off against non-conference opponents Tennessee Tech and Oklahoma.

The Owls, part of a group of teams hosted by the University of Tennessee, first took the field at Regal Soccer Stadium on Friday against Tennessee Tech, and Rob King’s side was able to record its first win in a season opener since 2010. The Owls beat the Golden Eagles 1-0, a scoreline that TTU was fortunate to hold.

Preseason is now over and the games hold actual meaning, but more of the same finishing problems from the Clayton State exhibition plagued the Owl attack. Even though KSU  held a sizable lead in shots (15-4), the breakthrough did not come as fast as the shot chart might have suggested.

“It would be nice to take a little bit of pressure off and not be quite as anxious if we put our chances away in the first half,” Owls head coach Rob King told ksuowls.com. “Because we really should have been two or three up by halftime.”

Defender Brittney Reed scored the lone goal of the game: a 25-yard shot that beat TTU’s goalkeeper, Jordan Brown, ten minutes into the second half. Reed’s season-opening strike continued what appears to be a smooth transition from the University of Florida, where she was on the team for a redshirt year in 2012.

Sunday’s game was quite different, both in the caliber of the opposition and the result.

The Owls traded their Ohio Valley Conference opponent for an initial meeting with Big 12 team Oklahoma, losing 2-0. Oklahoma’s Madison Saliba scored both goals on set pieces just two minutes apart in the first half.

King correctly predicted Friday night that the Sunday game would be much slower, and the most noticeable change of pace came in the KSU attack. Chances just did not come as easy for the Owls, as they only were able to record three shots. The closest attempt came late in the game from Shannon Driscoll, but the freshman forward had her effort saved by Oklahoma’s Miranda Larkin.

“We had a little bit of difficulty connecting with our forwards in there to actually generate very good chances,” King said. “We had one very good one on a breakaway that we were not able to capitalize.”

The youth movement continued for the Owls, as five true freshmen made their first KSU starts over the weekend. Suzanne Arafa continued her fine attacking form in the midfield, and she led the team in shots over the course of both games. In goal, fellow freshman Olivia Sturdivant also debuted with bright moments, keeping a clean sheet against TTU and saving five shots against OU.

King’s focus on gaining experience and learning as an entire team continued as well. The Owls are afforded that luxury because of a conference

schedule that does not start until September 27th. Results matter now, but King is more than happy to apply what happens in the context of the game, rather than just examine the scorelines.

“Overall a good weekend, a win and a loss and lots of things learned,” the coach said Sunday. The Owls hit the road again Friday, August 30th, for a couple prestigious games in the Carolina Nike Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C. KSU will play Duke, the No. 7 team in the nation, on Friday before finishing the tournament Sunday with the No. 1 ranked host—and defending national champion—North Carolina.

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