What makes a rivalry game special is not always the action on the field, though it may be what one thinks of first.
The extraordinary part of rivalry games—particularly in the case of the Bedlam Series in Oklahoma—is their ability to transcend. The players and coaches sense the intensity, the urgency and the build-up, while the fans and communities around them eagerly anticipate the games all season.
“I think as coaches we sometimes try to play rivalry games off as just another match,” OU soccer coach Matt Potter said. “The reality is that to a community, a university and a team, they’re a little more special than that. The Bedlam Series, I’ve come to learn, is one of the most competitive and one of the most exciting and passionate in the nation.”
The Bedlam soccer series has its own natural intensity thanks to a combined 14 in-state natives on the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State rosters.
“If you’ve grown up in this area, you’ve grown up with this rivalry,” Potter said. “For some of us that have come to learn about it, you learn that it means a lot to people.”
For Sooners like junior Abby Hodgen, the rush of playing in Bedlam goes especially deep. Hailing from Yukon, Okla., Hodgen picked OU over OSU and said that the rivalry has just intensified for her since becoming a student-athlete.
“It always means more when you’re playing the game,” Hodgen said. “Watching it was fun, but when you’re on the field, you want to defend your school and have that win over OSU every year.”
For Oklahomans like Hodgen and teammate Madison Saliba, Bedlam takes on a particularly local flair as they are often competing against former teammates and even friends.
“One of my really good friends plays for OSU, so it was a little emotional that way,” Saliba said as she reflected on OU’s first showing against the Cowgirls this season in August. “I know a bunch of the girls on the team now.”
Saliba is one of a crowd of newcomers on the Sooner team that quickly picked up on the excitement of the Bedlam Series in August. OU and OSU faced off in the Sooners’ third match of the season, which ended in a decisive Cowgirl victory. Saliba said the atmosphere was wilder than she expected, which she feels showed in her team’s play on the field.
“It was a crazy environment,” Saliba said. “It was scary the first time we played, because that was the biggest crowd we’d played in front of and there was a lot of emotion.”
“Crazy” is a word that is commonly used when describing past Bedlam contests—for Hodgen and the 2012 Sooners, the term took on a whole new meaning in last season’s series-opening matchup in Norman. Set against a backdrop of wild weather, Renae Cuellar posted a late goal to lift OU to a 1-0 victory over the then-No. 3 Cowgirls in what would become an instant classic.
“We all believed we could win, but when Renae scored, it kind of put the match in another category,” Hodgen said. “After that, the game just got crazier because we were trying not to give up a goal and they were doing everything they could to score. In the last 10 seconds, we knew we were going to win and we were all so excited and jumping on each other.”
Saliba and Hodgen both believe it will be a different Sooner team that takes the field against OSU in Norman this Friday night. A battle-tested group that has played road matches against five top-25 teams since August, Oklahoma carries a different kind of confidence entering the final game of the Bedlam Series.
“Since the last time we’ve played them, I think we’ve learned a lot about how to play with each other,” Saliba said. “I think we’re a completely different team.”
Hodgen said the key to a Sooner victory is simple: just play the game the team knows it is capable of playing.
“We’ve been pretty good at executing our game plan,” Hodgen said. “If we just stick to what we know we can do and what we’re good at, then we have a good chance of winning.”
Potter agreed, saying that consistency and confidence will be necessary for OU to take home the win.
“We’ve been talking quite a bit about consistency of performance,” he said. “Whatever it is you do, do it a little bit cleaner, a little bit faster, a little bit more efficiently and with a little bit more confidence. That’s what it’s going to take against a good Oklahoma State team.”