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Big 12 won't settle for two NCAA berths this season
by Paul Kennedy, September 24th, 2010 4:03AM
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[CONFERENCE WATCH] One of the most improved women's conferences is the Big 12. A year after only two teams -- Texas A&M and Oklahoma State -- made the NCAA Tournament -- regular-season champion Missouri was ignored by the selection committee -- three teams are ranked in the Soccer America Top 25 and five others have winning records. Of the others, Colorado and Kansas have both beaten Top 25 teams, while Missouri's non-conference schedule is one of the toughest in the country. Here's a look at the Big 12 ...

TEXAS A&M (No. 5, 7-2-0). The Aggies were the preseason picks to win the Big 12, and they have not disappointed. Their only losses have come to No. 1 North Carolina and No. 3 Portland. The attack, led by forwards Merritt Mathias and Whitney Hooper and midfielders Rachel Shipley and Alyssa Mautz (team-high seven goals), is one of the best in the country.

OKLAHOMA STATE (No. 16, 7-1-1). The Cowgirls have only lost to Portland in nine games. Goalie Adrianna Franch, an All-American candidate, ranks seventh in the country with a 0.35 goals-against average. Krista Lopez is tied for the conference lead with seven goals.

TEXAS (No. 21, 6-1-1). The Longhorns have won back-to-back games against Top 25 teams. The most recent win came Monday when they handed No. 8 BYU its first loss of the season. Underclassmen have been playing big roles for the 'Horns. Sophomore Alexa Gaul has been outstanding in goal, while sophomore Hannah Higgins and redshirt freshman Leah Fortune lead Texas with three goals.

BAYLOR (7-1-1). The Bears are fourth in the country in both average goals per game (3.44) and goals-against average (0.32). They've shut out every opponent except Arizona State, which handed them their only loss, 3-1. Four players are among the conference top 10 scorers: Hanna Gilmore (5-5-15), Lisa Sliwinski (6-2-14), Dana Larsen (4-2-10) and Lotto Smith (3-4-10).

NEBRASKA (7-2-0). Morgan Marlborough was named the 2009 Big 12 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year after she led the conference in scoring with 21 goals and 49 points. She already has 15 points this season for the Huskers, whose only losses were to Arizona State and New Mexico.

TEXAS TECH (7-2-0). The Red Raiders' 5-0-0 start -- all shutout wins -- was their best in the program's history. Goalie Colleen Pitts ranks ninth in the country with an 0.36 goals-against average. Erin Wikelius' GAA is 0.29 in four appearances. Freshman Jessica Fuston leads the team with four goals.

IOWA STATE (5-2-2). The Cyclones have scored only nine goals in nine games. The only players with more than one goal are freshmen Emily Goldstein and Brittany Morgan with two apiece. (Heavy rainfall in Brookings, S.D., has forced the Cyclones' final non-conference match against South Dakota State to be moved to the University of Sioux Falls Friday.)

OKLAHOMA (4-3-1). The Sooners welcome Texas Tech and Baylor to Norman after after returning from California, where they beat a good UC Santa Barbara team, 1-0. Senior Whitney Palmer, whose 32 career goals leave her within two of the Sooner record, leads what is otherwise a young team.

COLORADO (4-4-0). Lizzy Herzl's goal gave the Buffs a 1-0 over perennial national contender UCLA. Senior Kym Lowry has two goals -- both gamewinners -- and a team-high four assist for eight points, more than her output in her first three seasons combined. Colorado will be tested this weekend, opening conference play against Texas A&M (away) and Texas (in Boulder).

KANSAS (4-4-0). The Jayhawks' big win came against Northwestern after the Wildcats had jumped into the Top 25. They are hoping for a strong year out of junior Emily Cressy to improve on their eighth-place finish in the conference last season.

MISSOURI (2-4-2). The Tigers, who lost eight starters from last season's regular-season championship team that surprisingly didn't get an NCAA Tournament berth, have lost to ACC powerhouses North Carolina, Maryland and Duke (all top 15 teams). Senior Alysha Bonnick leads Mizzou in goals (5) and points (11).



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