Cyclones contend despite top-ranked opponents

Then-freshman midfielder Claudia Najera blocks a TCU player while preparing to pass to her teammate from the outside in the Iowa State vs. TCU game Oct. 6, 2019.

John Miller

On the surface, the Iowa State women’s soccer team (1-3) may not look like a formidable Big 12 team.

But Iowa State has faced some of the best teams in the country to start the season.

Three of the Cyclones’ first four opponents have been ranked inside the top-15 in the country. West Virginia (No. 4), Oklahoma State (No. 6) and TCU (No. 12) all defeated the Cyclones.

Head Coach Matt Fannon said despite the losses, he can see the progression the team is making.

“We outplayed TCU in the second half,” Fannon said. “And the thing is, we didn’t change anything at halftime. We just reminded them of the game plan, so it goes to show that we’re capable of beating great teams — we just need to do it consistently.”

Iowa State controlled the pace of play for much of the second half and outshot TCU 9-3 after intermission.

The Cyclones could just not get a shot into the net. The Horned Frogs’ lone goal came off a penalty kick in the 29th minute.

In the first half, TCU outshot Iowa State 15-3 and earned six corner kicks.

With such a differential, sophomore midfielder Claudia Najera said the Cyclones need to focus on the second half heading forward.

“It’s frustrating seeing two different things,” Najera said. “We just need to be aggressive and take advantage of opportunities instead of coming out flat.”

The Cyclones’ lone win this season came against unranked Baylor. With no other ranked opponents on Iowa State’s schedule as of now, the chances for wins could increase.

But with the winnable games, Fannon said there’s an added pressure.

“Now that the games are more up for grabs, it puts the pressure on us because if we’re going to hit any of our goals we aimed at, we need to go now,” Fannon said.

Coming into the year, Iowa State put its focus on trying to be above .500 in conference play. The last time that happened in program history was in 2005, when the Cyclones made the NCAA Tournament.

That means the Cyclones will need to win four out of the next five games to achieve it.

With games against Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas State and Kansas, Fannon said the teams will be probably be equally matched talent-wise, it will just come down to preparation.

“The results are going to be centered around us not making mistakes,” Fannon said.

Junior defender Taylor Bee said one thing that helps Iowa State prepare more for opponents this year is only having one game a week.

In a traditional season, the Cyclones would play two games: one on Thursday or Friday and one on the weekend. But with this approach of playing one game a week every Friday, Iowa State can get into a routine.

It also allows players to play more minutes, as Bee was one of four Cyclones that played the full 90 minutes against TCU.

“It really slows everything down and allows us to analyze each opponent,” Bee said. “These games have shaped us to getting into those moments and learning how to win.”

After going winless in conference play last year, the Cyclones are already on the rise.

The only ranked conference teams they played to within a goal last year were Texas Tech and Kansas, both of which were ranked in the later half of the rankings at No. 18 and No. 25, respectively.

“In prior years, we didn’t have these chances very often,” Bee said. “Now that we’ve seen some of the best, it helps our confidence because we’ve seen we can play right with them.”

Iowa State’s next opponent, Oklahoma, is 0-1-1. The Sooners lost to Texas before tying with Texas Tech.

The Cyclones have not played any of those teams yet, but Iowa State lost to Oklahoma 0-1 last year.

Fannon said Oklahoma pressures the ball well and will try for that into Iowa State mistakes. But the biggest focus is for the Cyclones to play a consistent 90 minutes.

“It’s a process and something we’re working on,” Fannon said. “But once we get it, it should easier to keep building wins with it.”