Jayhawk Insider: Frigid temperatures equal ice-cold veins for Katie McClure
By Mitch George
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The night before the match, three inches of snow lay atop the soccer pitch that was set to play host to the Kansas Jayhawks and the St. Louis Billikens. The temperature dwindled near 20 degrees at kickoff. Despite the non-ideal conditions, hundreds of Jayhawk fans donned their warmest winter garb and made the trek to Rock Chalk Park for the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
Despite the venue being deemed a neutral site by the NCAA, junior forward Katie McClure gave Kansas fans an early opportunity to let their presence be known with her first of two goals. McClure delivered the icebreaker coming off a flawless left-to-right cross from Elise Reina in the 19th minute and gave the Jayhawks a 1-0 advantage
Her second goal, however, proved to be much more dramatic.
After an equalizing 34th-minute goal by the Billikens, the two sides played to a stalemate through regulation and one overtime period.
By this point, the temperature further decreased to 17 degrees, nearing the all-time program-low temperature of 16 degrees that the Jayhawks endured against Missouri in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Coincidentally, Kansas won with a second-overtime goal in the match.
When a Saint Louis foul led to a set piece opportunity for sophomore midfielder Ceri Holland in a golden goal situation, she liked her chances at repeating history.
“I could see a big space and I felt if I could get there I knew one of my teammates would get on the other end of it,” she said.
Holland’s right-footed strike was crossed to the right side of the box, where senior forward Grace Hagan used her forehead to play the ball toward the bottom left corner of the goal. The ball made it past the diving Saint Louis goalkeeper, where McClure was waiting. She tapped the ball in for reassurance, putting the Billikens on ice and ending the frigid affair.
“[The cold] kind of went away for me,” McClure admitted. “The only thing I really didn’t feel was my legs, but that was fine.”
In addition to not feeling her legs, she likely didn’t feel pressure either, as the contest marked the ninth time Kansas has played in overtime this season. Of the Jayhawks’ five overtime wins, McClure has ended the match four times.
“It’s really tough when you get in the tournament,” head coach Mark Francis said. “We’ve played nine overtime games and we have had success a lot, so we know how to play in these types of games. The players are just very resilient.”
The fans that braved the conditions saw McClure net her 7th game-winning goal of the season. In addition to her game-clinching production, she and Hagan combine to take part in 21 of the 27 Kansas goals scored this season.
After Coach Francis credited his players, he made sure to recognize everyone who had a part in ensuring the game took place seamlessly.
Referencing the work put in by the facilities staff to clear the snow and the trainers’ role in keeping the players warm, he said, “It was just a great effort in terms of everybody doing their job to give us a chance to be successful.”
The Jayhawks look to remain cold-blooded when they travel to Cary, North Carolina to play the North Carolina Tarheels in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at 4 p.m. (CT) on Friday, Nov. 16. The Tarheels are the No. 1 seed in the region as well as the No. 3-ranked team in the country. The last meeting between the two clubs also occurred in the tournament, taking place in 2016 when North Carolina was victorious, 2-0.
Hagan and the rest of her Jayhawk teammates will hit the road for the stretch run of Big 12 play, starting with the Texas Longhorns in Austin on Friday, Oct. 19. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Longhorn Network.
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