The mood around the Longhorns for most of the season has been unmistakably optimistic.
But after heartbreaking results the past two weeks — Texas is winless in Big 12 play — the team’s positivity dwindled.
However, the Longhorns (7–6–1, 0–3–1 Big 12) re-captured their mojo last Friday, topping Kansas State at home, 2–0.
“We had been carrying a not-so-positive feeling from the two weekends prior,” head coach Angela Kelly said. “It certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort and a lack of willing to execute. We played quality opponents, and it was just that little extra effort in every single match. We all knew that we could’ve done something differently.”
The Longhorns opened Big 12 play on Sept. 23 with a 1-1 draw against Baylor. But the following three matches were wake-up calls.
Texas dropped three in a row to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas. The Longhorns held a 1-0 lead in three of their first four Big 12 matches. The win against Kansas State didn’t count as a Big 12 victory, as the Wildcats are in their first year as a Division I program and are classified as independent. The loss of leading scorer sophomore forward Alexa Adams to a torn ACL only further drained the positivity.
“It’s in moments of adversity you find a person, a group, a team’s true character,” Kelly said. “Our leadership group this year is fantastic. We certainly worked these past 10 days to organize things that we can do better.”
That leadership group includes senior midfielder Julia Dyche and senior defender Isabelle Kerr, who Kelly credits as being part of the reason this team has stayed the course.
“They’re mainstays on the field, they’re mainstays off the field,” Kelly said. “They have a leadership group that’s helping them really keep this group together. We have one another, and the team’s really looked within, looked toward one another.”
With four matches left before the Big 12 tournament, Texas knows there’s work to be done to get back to playing at a high level. That work begins on the road against Iowa State on Friday.
Now without their top two goal-scorers from last season, Adams and redshirt sophomore Mikayla Flores, the Longhorns have a larger hill to climb. But Texas is still confident it can make a run at the Big 12 title and make the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve grown a lot,” Kelly said. “Lots of squads who would’ve went through what we’ve had with our injuries and with the close losses [would’ve] crumbled. We’re just never going to crumble. That’s really what makes me proud about this squad because there’s a sense of resiliency and a sense of responsibility that they’re taking, and it’s all going to be okay because we’re in this together.”
The Longhorns and Iowa State kick off in Ames, Iowa, at 7 p.m.