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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Jayhawks relish immediate payback opportunity

Kansas opens Big 12 Conference soccer tournament against same Colorado squad that issued beating five days ago

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— On Friday, Colorado stormed into Lawrence and handed Kansas University its worst loss of the season, shutting out the Jayhawks, 4-0, and snapping their four-game winning streak.

Less than a week later, the two teams will square off again when they take the pitch this afternoon in the Big 12 soccer tournament.

Fourth-seeded KU (11-7, 6-4 Big 12) meets fifth-seeded Colorado (11-5-2, 5-4-1) at 1:30 p.m. in the quarterfinal round of the tournament. The winner will meet top-seeded Texas A&M; or No. 8 Baylor in Friday's semifinals.

While some may view the match as somewhat of a mental challenge, Kansas senior forward Holly Gault is taking the opposite approach. Friday's loss is still fresh in her mind, and she sees it as an opportunity.

"It's a definite advantage," said Gault, who spent three years as a defender before moving into the attack this season. "We're fortunate enough to be able to set things straight. Things didn't go our way (Friday), and they definitely capitalized on that. I think (today) will be a much better game, and I'm really excited to get back out on the field."

Kansas practiced over the weekend, and according to head coach Mark Francis, the team's strategy remains unchanged.

"You don't prepare any differently coming into the tournament," he said. "It's important to keep doing the same things you've been doing well all year. Up until Friday, we'd been putting away our chances and possessing the ball well; defensively we'd only given up three goals in seven games.

"This is a big motivation for us I'd rather be in our position than their position, having to play a team they just beat 4-0."

Regardless of strategy, one thing is for certain - for the Jayhawks to be successful against the Buffaloes, they'll have to find a way to contain freshman forward Nikki Marshall.

Marshall, who's found the back of the net 30 times this season, leads the conference in goals and points. Last Friday, she gave Kansas an up-close-and-personal look at just how dangerous she is, scoring twice and adding an assist.

"She's very fast," Francis said. "She's good one-v-one, and she finishes her opportunities."

Even more important will be Kansas' ability to find its rhythm, something Gault said eluded the Jayhawks last week.

"We have to mentally bear down," she said. "We had absolutely no rhythm. We did everything wrong; it wasn't necessarily that they did everything right. Colorado's a team that likes to bring the ball down and possess it. We have to focus on our game plan."

Francis concurred: "We didn't connect at all. If we can do that, the rest will come. The key for us is how we bounce back from Friday's loss, how we respond."

Kansas is making its seventh straight Big 12 tournament appearance, although it has never advanced beyond the semifinals.

Gault said looking ahead was exactly the type of mental error that could send the Jayhawks home before they had a chance to unpack their bags.

"When I was a sophomore, the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds played for the championship," she said. "Any team in our conference can beat any other team on any given day. We have to focus on (today). We can't look past Colorado. We can't have an off day and expect to (advance.)"

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