By: Tyler Moss
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Oklahoma State’s women’s soccer team is flying high heading into this week’s Big 12 Championships.
The eighth-ranked Cowgirls are the top seed after clinching the first regular-season conference title in school history with last week’s win over in-state rival Oklahoma.
With a strong nucleus of veterans blending with young talent, OSU coaches knew before the season that this could be a memorable year. That feeling intensified when outstanding midfielder Yolanda Odenyo was granted a fourth year of eligibility which allowed her to continue her career through this season.
“I was so surprised when I found out that I had received the fourth year,” said Odenyo, a native of Uppsala, Sweden. “This is what I love to do and it is such a blessing to be able to do it for another year. I love where this team is at and I am so thankful to be a part of this for one more year.”
Odenyo, one of the greatest athletes in Oklahoma State history, originally was recruited by national power North Carolina. Because she played for a club team in Sweden that could be considered “professional” by United States soccer standards, the NCAA denied her a scholarship to play at the collegiate level.
Karen Hancock, current assistant coach who was the Cowgirls' head coach at the time, relentlessly pursued Odenyo for eight months. Four years later, Odenyo is putting together an encore senior season that will close out the most prolific career in the program’s history.
Heading into the postseason, the Cowgirls are 16-1-2 (7-1-2) and Odenyo leads the team in goals with 15 (she scored seven last season) and points (34). She is also second on the team in shot percentage (.254),).
“I wanted to go out with a bang,” Odenyo said. “I knew this team was going to be good this year, but I had no idea that we were going to be playing at this level. The sky is the limit for us. We have the talent to beat anybody we step on the field with, but we must take it upon ourselves to show up to every game ready to fight.”
Odenyo’s increased offensive production can be credited to an adjustment by head coach Colin Carmichael.
“Everyone obviously focuses on Yolanda,” Carmichael said. “What we’ve done with her for this season is make her more of an attacking midfielder to try and get some more goal production out of her. She feels like, and we agree with her, that she can be a little more offensive.”
As Odenyo climbs OSU’s record charts in nearly every statistical category, perhaps one of her most noticeable traits is a humble “team-first” attitude. She credits much of her success this year to her teammates and their work ethic. Odenyo points to depth as a team strength.
“This team is not nine or 10 players deep anymore,” Odenyo said. “We are good at all positions all the way down the roster. So much changes when you know that when we go to the bench, we have plenty of strong players coming into the game. That does so much for the character of the team, too, when you know that everyone is contributing and doing their part.”
Odenyo thinks that the added depth will give Oklahoma State a late-season advantage.
“Every season I have been here, I have played 90 minutes in every game and by mid-season, I was so tired and worn out," she said. "We were getting beat because we were playing teams that were much deeper. Now, we have so much depth that as we get into the most important stretch of the season, we are all still 100 percent and ready to play to the end of every game.”
Carmichael and his staff were thrilled to have a player like Odenyo back for one more season. But he says that her gaudy stats are not all that she brings to the program.
“Not only her individual stats but her leadership and the confidence that she brings to the rest of the team,” Carmichael said. “And then when teams focus on stopping Yolanda, it allows others to step up and have more freedom. (Odenyo) is just invaluable. She’s made a huge impact on our program on-and-off the field. She’s our focal point.”
Odenyo’s memorable college career is nearing its end but she is focused on helping Oklahoma State join the nation's elite programs.
“I know that this is my time,” Odenyo said. “I was brought to this program for a reason and my time here has been incredible. Now, I just want to leave it all out on the field and hopefully leave my mark on this program.”