Trio of Cowgirls contending for starting goalkeeper position

Aug. 13—The starting spot could belong to any of the three goalkeepers.

As coach Colin Carmichael assembles the Oklahoma State soccer team’s lineup, he has yet to choose someone to fill Emily Plotz’s place at the net. Each contender has unique specialties, so no one is the clear frontrunner.

“They all have a couple of things where they have an edge on the other player,” Carmichael said. “But they all have things that they gotta get better at if they want to make that starting job their own.”

The Cowgirls’ upcoming neutral-site exhibition match against Missouri could clear up that question mark. OSU will face the Tigers at 10 a.m. Friday in Frisco, Texas, and Carmichael said every goalkeeper — Amber Lockwood, Ary Purifoy and Evie Vitali — will rotate into the lineup.

Because the roster is loaded with returners, Carmichael knows what to expect from many of the Cowgirls, but the young keepers’ in-game tendencies aren’t as obvious.

Hannah Webb, a fifth-year defender from Mansfield, Texas, said it’s exciting to see how the close competition will play out.

“I think communication is gonna be a huge part of that,” Webb said. “I know they’ve all got voices, but it will be interesting to see who’s the first one to really take the bull by the horns and make their voice heard.”

Lockwood, a sophomore from San Antonio, is the only Cowgirl keeper who has competed in collegiate matches. Although Plotz typically started last season, Lockwood briefly filled in when Plotz was injured and earned Big 12 Freshman of the Week Honors. Then she spent her summer playing for Oklahoma City FC.

Purifoy, a redshirt freshman from Machesney Park, Illinois, has experience with the Chicago area’s Eclipse Select Soccer Club. She trained with the Cowgirls in the spring, though she didn’t play in a game, and initially signed with Houston before arriving at OSU.

Vitali, a freshman from Overland Park, Kansas, was tabbed as the second-ranked goalkeeper recruit in the Academy and ECNL InStat Index’s 2021 ratings.

Carmichael pointed to each keeper’s strengths: Lockwood’s organization, Purifoy’s speed and footwork and Vitali’s height, which can help her defend against high balls. At 5-foot-9, Vitali is the tallest of the trio.

All of those qualities could be useful as the Cowgirls strive to replace Plotz, who had 55 saves for a percentage of 84.6 last season. Carmichael said Plotz considered returning to OSU for one more year, but she left graduate school when a career opportunity popped up in her home state of Florida.

“It kind of put us in a bind a little bit, but you could understand,” Carmichael said. “I can’t blame the kid for wanting to move on with life.”

Along with finding Plotz’s substitute, the Cowgirls have to shuffle their lineup to fill in for star midfielder Camy Huddleston, who graduated. Carmichael said Kim Rodriguez will likely shift between midfield and the backfield, and sophomore Shyann McClary could also step in.

Despite these significant changes, Carmichael said OSU’s identity is largely dependent upon its seasoned leadership. The Cowgirls have four fifth-year returners: Charmé Morgan, Gabriella Coleman, Webb and Rodriguez.

“They understand that we gotta roll, we gotta play hard, we gotta compete immediately,” Carmichael said. “So they definitely lead the way, and they kind of bring the new players up with them and set that high standard. … Having that much leadership makes my job easier.”

The veterans provided the Cowgirls with stability throughout the changes of the unpredictable past season, including a reduced number of matches per week and a schedule that extended into the spring.

Although this season will involve a few modifications to the typical routine, it won’t be as out of the ordinary as last year.

Carmichael estimated 80 percent of his team is vaccinated against COVID-19, and he said the Cowgirls will continue to take precautions such as masking on airplanes and eating delivered meals instead of going to restaurants on road trips. But the calendar looks more conventional — the Cowgirls are returning to their schedule of often playing two games a week, something Webb appreciates.

“It is more taxing on your body,” Webb said. “But it’s easier for you to move on to a game. … I think it’s good for our mentality to be back to the two-game schedule, just more than anything.”

The Cowgirls have plenty of work ahead of them. Carmichael said he is impressed with the Big 12 this season, and the preseason rankings have set high expectations. His team is No. 16 in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll and third in the conference poll, behind West Virginia and TCU.

OSU’s season will officially start next Thursday against UTSA in Neal Patterson Stadium. Until then, the keepers will continue to vie for the coveted starting role.

“Right now, it’s just a battle,” Carmichael said. “Day to day, we just tell them to compete.”

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