Following the Ohio State women’s soccer team’s 3-0 victory over Indiana to end the regular season, coach Lori Walker projected that the team would need to advance as far as the Big Ten tournament championship game to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament.
When the Buckeyes lost to Illinois on penalty kicks in the first round of the conference tournament on Nov. 3, the team thought its season was over.
But the season was revived Monday when OSU was chosen for an at-large berth to the 64-team national tournament. The Buckeyes will travel to regional No. 4 seed Tennessee to play a first-round match at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Walker said the team was a bit shocked when they learned they had been selected.
“We were as surprised I think as anybody,” she said. “I think this was one year though, where I was just like, ‘nah we haven’t done enough, we’re done.’ So we’re pleasantly surprised.”
The Buckeyes finished the season with a record of 10-8-2. In 2006, OSU finished 10-8-1 and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, an experience that Walker admitted led her to believe the team wouldn’t be selected this season. She added that the strength of the schedule this year may have helped the team’s case for a bid.
“Apparently that was enough to push us up ahead,” Walker said.
After being away from soccer for several days, Walker said the team showed a lot of energy in Monday night’s practice after the Buckeyes learned of their selection.
“I think that when something is taken away from you, you value it more,” she said. “Especially the seniors … (they) in particular are reinvigorated and excited about the opportunity.”
The 2011 senior class is currently tied for the second-most wins for a four-year group in program history with 49. Now they will have the chance to move past the 2006 class into second and even challenge the all-time number of 51 victories achieved by the 2010 class.
Last season, the Buckeyes won a share of the conference title and made a run to the national semifinals. Walker said she tries not to compare this year’s team to last year’s.
“We’ve really tried not to compare, especially right now,” she said. “I think every game we get is a gift and so we just really want to focus in on Saturday.”
OSU will look to jump start its offensive attack against the Volunteers. The Buckeyes have scored a goal or less in seven of their last nine games.
“Goal scoring is the hardest thing to do in soccer,” Walker said. “We certainly have the talent and we certainly have the right players in the right spots, but just like baseball hitting, it can sometimes go into a slump and you can’t necessarily figure out why.”
A difference in tournament structure this season has teams play only one game the first weekend, instead of the two in years past. Walker said she hopes that this will allow the Buckeyes to focus solely on Saturday’s game and lead to more success for the team.
“I like the way the bracket looks,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter unless you take care of business.”