DEFENSIVE FORCE: Lauren Mitchell has been a defensive force for the Lady Rams this spring.
Courtesy Owasso High School
When soccer season came around the corner this spring, people picked Broken Arrow to be the District 6A-3 favorite with all the players it had coming back.
“A lot of people considered them to be one of the better teams in the area,” Owasso coach Sam Bowers says. “We graduated nine starters last year, and we were kind of the mystery.”
That mystery was overlooked because the Lady Rams (17-2) went on to win their district, which includes a win over the Lady Tigers on April 8 and a state runner-up finish one month later.
“We were really deep last year,” Bowers says. “Our bench was unbelievable last year. Now, all those kids that were on the bench are now starting.”
Graduating starters would normally be cause for panic, Bowers says, but Owasso just reloaded.
“Those kids coming in played a lot of minutes last year,” Bowers says. “So it wasn’t really a panic time. We had enough experience coming back.”
The coaching staff did have to move players around though.
“They had different positions and we had to fill up holes in certain areas, and now we have certain kids playing different positions,” Bowers says.
In between losses to eventual state champion Union, in both the opener and the state title game, the Lady Rams won 17 straight games. They shut out their opponents in 16 of those victories.
They are ranked No. 2 in the state by TopDrawerSoccer.com, with Union being in the top spot.
That includes a 3-0 shutout of Broken Arrow at its place.
Rachel Skalnik, also a standout for the Lady Rams’ runner-up basketball team who just signed to play the sport at Oral Roberts, was called up to play goalkeeper in the game. Skalnik was asked to move there from her center/midfielder position when regular starting goalkeeper Hannah Warner had to serve a one-game suspension due to receiving a red card in the previous game.
“She made three really nice saves,” Bowers says. “The one thing it did for us is the confidence level in our kids. It was so high with Rachel back there. Rachel is just smooth. She is just an athlete. When I first talked to her about that, she asked if I was serious. I said, ‘I’m real serious.’”
Broken Arrow could shoot from many distances. Bowers was in need of someone who could catch the high balls. With Skalnik coming in from basketball, he knew she would be a good match.
“She is used to it,” he says. “She is used to going up and getting rebounds. But more than anything, everybody on our team believes in Rachel, and it calmed everybody down. Our kids wanted to protect her.”
Warner eventually returned for the next game against Stillwater on April 12, but Skalnik’s performance was valuable.
The one win Owasso did yield points came in a 3-2 overtime win at home against Bixby on April 22. That win crowned the Lady Rams as district champions. They would finish the year allowing eight goals – the other six coming in the losses to Union.
Other leading players for the Lady Rams in 2016 were junior Brianna McGowen, last year’s team MVP, senior Shannon Smith, senior Sarah Rector, senior Lauren Mitchell and junior Kelsey DeCastro.
McGowen (midfielder) and Warren are the two players that started for Owasso last year.
Mitchell was one of the players that was moved to another position, which was the defense. She moved from center/midfielder to center/fullback.
“Lauren moved to center/back, because we graduated all our defenders last year. The only defender we had coming back was our goalkeeper (Warren),” Bowers says. “But Lauren went in to play center-back, and she has organized our whole back line.”
Smith started a couple of games in 2015 but was in rotation. She would be among the biggest forces on offense this year. Rector has also impacted the team.
“Those are our two big scorers, then I have six kids who are scoring four or five,” Bowers says. “It’s a lot more spread out and more balanced.”
Confidence has been another effective tool for Owasso. Then there is their own unique cohesiveness. Many of them play for the Owasso club soccer team during the offseason.
“They have played together for many years,” Bowers says. “Last year, they would be together in certain spots. This year, they all go out there together and all play in the middle of the field. With them playing all together, and with Bri (McGowen) in the middle, we’ve been really good in the middle of the field. I think bearing with each other has helped us.”