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Grieving Cowgirls show courage
by Paul Kennedy, November 19th, 2011 4:12AM



[OKLAHOMA STATE-ILLINOIS] On an emotional day for Oklahoma State following the deaths of Cowgirl women’s basketball coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna in a plane crash on Thursday, the No. 4 Cowgirls were able to advance to the round of 16 in NCAA Women's Tournament with a 1-0 win over Big Ten champion Illinois.

OSU set a school record for wins as it improved its record to 21-1-2 and recorded its NCAA-leading 17th shutout of the season.

Annika Niemeier’s goal in the 25th minute was the difference in the game at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex.

Illinois had its chances. Just over five minutes in, a shot by Marissa Mykines deflected off the crossbar, and five minutes later, OSU goalie AD Franch made a full-extension diving save on a blast by Vanessa DiBernardo to keep the Illini off the scoreboard.

“It was always going to be tough, and given everything that happened today it was very difficult for the girls to focus and be motivated like we normally would,” OSU coach Colin Carmichael said. “But our team showed again what kind of courage they have, what kind of desire they have and how tough they can be to come out and play with the intensity they did."

OSU All-American defender Melinda Mercado had played basketball for Budke’s Cowgirls as a freshman during the 2008-09 season, said playing the game was not easy, but a pre-game speech from OSU Athletic Director Mike Holder helped the team focus.
“Early in the day when we all found out [about the crash], it was very difficult. You put the game in the back of your mind, and that’s what you’re thinking about at the moment,” Mercado said. “But I think once we got in the locker room and Coach Holder came and talked to us, we just really focused in. I think his speech really got to us, about how they would want us to be focused and come out with a ‘W.’ Once the game rolled around we were more focused, but we were definitely grieving with the rest of Stillwater earlier.”

Carmichael said it was right to play the game.

“We talked about what to do and from the president’s office to the athletic director’s office," he said. "Everybody agreed that the game should be played because it was an NCAA Tournament game and it didn’t just effect Oklahoma State -- we had three other teams here plus all the other brackets that would be affected with postponement."

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