By Steve Lansdale
AUSTIN, Texas — Senior goalkeeper Abby Smith collected her second shutout of the young season as the University of Texas women’s soccer team battled No. 18 Ohio State to a scoreless draw Sunday afternoon.
The Longhorns outshot the Buckeyes, 4-1, during the two overtime periods, pulling the shots totals to within one for the game: Ohio State fired 18 shots at the Texas goal, one more than the ’Horns were able to shoot.
Texas head coach Angel Kelly said she was impressed with the improvement her team showed over the course of the game.
"For the first half we didn't take care of the ball,” Texas head coach Angela Kelly said. “We gave the ball away too many times and we played tense. We talked about that at halftime, and I thought our playmakers did a better job of playmaking and turning and facing and attacking the widths. I think our corner kick total was 7-3 in our favor. Not always, but typically that shows field superiority and possession of the ball, although I thought Ohio State did a great job.”
The tie wrapped up a grueling weekend for the Longhorns, who lost Friday, 2-0, to the University of North Carolina. Kelly said that despite her team’s results, the weekend indicated that Texas can evolve into a team that is able to play with some of the nation’s heavyweight teams.
“This was a Final Four-type weekend,” Kelly said. We played the perennial national champs on Friday night and (North Carolina head coach) Anson (Dorrance) told me today that our goalkeeper was unbelievable, that Lindsey Meyer is one the best defensive midfielders that he's ever seen, and that our team battled for 90 minutes (against the Tar Heels). Today, to turn around mid-day and play a very well organized Ohio State team with creative, dynamic players in the attack, to go into overtime, I couldn't be more proud of my squad. Slowly but surely, we're putting the pieces together to compete against the best in the country, and to be honest, it’s pretty exciting.”
Redshirt freshman Mikayla Flores agreed with her coach that the weekend revealed reason for optimism as the season wears on.
"We had some at the top of the box, we had some good balls wide,” Flores said. “Our touches were off, but we'll get there eventually. We just have to keep working hard."
Smith said she was flattered to learn of Dorrance’s comments about her, but said the accolades she receives are a reflection of the work done by the players in front of her.
"It's really nice to hear, but there's always room for improvement,” Smith said. “I think it’s more of a team effort because I wouldn't be able to be where I am today without our team and the coaches and everything. They've definitely helped out a lot with my development and my mentality."
Kelly said that in future games, the Longhorns need to convert when chances present themselves, and is optimistic that they will be able to do just that, in part because of the security they enjoy with Smith between the pipes.
"Well we need to take advantage of our opportunities,” Kelly said. “On Friday night, we missed the ball at the back post, and they cleared the ball off the line. Now that might be your only chances in a high-level match — you have to maximize your opportunity. Today, we created opportunities and somebody needed to have the capacity to take that responsibility and put the ball in the back of the net for us. I think as we mature as a squad and young players get more confident, you're going to see that, and that's something we'll definitely be discussing.
“What a fantastic weekend for Abby Smith. I've said all along that she's the best goalkeeper in the country, and it's not just me thinking that anymore — I think it's obvious to everyone. Just like a midfielder can be a game-changer, Abby Smith is an absolute game-changer. She's a leader. She has U.S. National Team written all over her."
Texas (1-1-1) will try to get back on the winning track when they travel west this week for road games Friday at UC-Santa Barbara and Sunday at UCLA, a trip she said has a chance to be just the tonic the Longhorns need to put the loss and tie from this weekend behind them.
"We're going to recover,” Kelly said. “That's really important for all of our players. We're going to have to be really well-organized. We're playing UCLA, (which) won a national championship a few years ago, and UC-Santa Barbara is a fantastic team. So we get to recover and reorganize our shape and how we go forward and get a little more fluid in our attack."