Cowgirls playing for their coach as much as for themselves


ABILENE, Texas - 23-0 never sounded so good, but HSU women's soccer isn't done there.

Friday marks a welcome back for the 14-time American Southwest Conference champs, who return to the NCAA DIII Final Four for the first time in seven years. The cowgirls had a week to prepare over the long holiday weekend, after sealing their trip in a win over Ohio Northern last Sunday in Geneva New York.

But the undefeated squad has had its share of drama.

Not only did HSU net two goals in the final nine minutes for a win over rival Trinity last Sunday, but their trip to New York saw coach Marcus Wood spend part of in the hospital with a kidney stone. He made it to the game just in time, to cheer on his girls.

"It was just about getting to the hospital, getting some pain medication," said Wood prior to Monday's practice. "But I was not missing that game, so I used medicine and fought through it to be there and boy was I glad I did."

"When he made it out to the game and was on the sideline, you could see the whole team's emotions flip," added junior Kenne Kessler. "We were ready to do it without him, but just him being there was a huge help of confidence and relief in that game."

And they did it. HSU securing its place in the final four after a battle-tested year of injuries, and late game drama. But now it's up to them to finish the job.

"We know we have to take it one game at a time, but it's just about playing like we have been and not getting caught up if things aren't going well early," senior Kami Jones explained.

"There's going to be a lot of times where we'll have to be in our defensive half for a good chunk, but when it comes down to it - we only need five minutes to put the ball in the net, like we don't need the ball the whole game which is good because our transitions and our corners and attack - that's where we're going to break through," said Kessler, who has a school record 37 goals this season.

"There's been so much we've had to overcome -- losing Kami Jones who's a star player -- and to survive and still be undefeated," explained coach Wood. "It's a team that can go through adversity and get things done."

But with coach Wood's kidney stone not passed yet, its safe to say this trip to Greensboro, NC and the NCAA Final Four has an extra layer of motivation.

"Even if he's not here, we're playing for him," said Jones. "But we're also playing for us too -- we made it far."

"He's put everything on the line, and now he's putting his health on the line," added Kessler. "I mean, our story is a good story and it's been awesome and I want to just go finish it the right way now in North Carolina."

The Cowgirls will play Williams College in the first semifinal game at 12:30 p.m.(CT) on Friday.