After winning a share of its first Big Ten championship in program history, the No. 17 Ohio State women’s soccer team (14-4-1, 8-2-0) is now looking forward to making the most of the subsequent NCAA tournament bid that came with the conference title.
The Buckeyes earned the No. 3 seed in their region and will host the first two rounds of the tournament at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU will face St. Francis (Pa.) (15-4-2) on Friday, and the winner of the match will advance to face the winner of Dayton and Virginia Tech on Sunday.
“We’re excited to host St. Francis and we’re excited to be home, playing in the NCAAs,” said OSU coach Lori Walker. “I really think that the team has recovered well from the excitement of winning a Big Ten championship.”
Senior midfielder Courtney Jenkins said her team’s historic accomplishment hasn’t set in yet, but that St. Francis is the only game on the Buckeyes’ minds.
“We came up a little short last year and that was our main goal this year and it’s just kind of hard to believe that we actually did it,” Jenkins said. “We play St. Francis on Friday and that’s the only game we’re looking at right now. So we’re going to get a win there and just prepare after that.”
The Buckeyes earned their share of the Big Ten title when they beat Michigan State last week in a 1-0 decision. The win avenges a loss to the Spartans last season in a game that would have given OSU a share of the Big Ten crown, which went to Penn State.
Forward Paige Maxwell said this year’s championship brought closure to last year’s heartbreak.
“We got so close, and not everyone gets a chance to do it again exactly the same way we did last year,” Maxwell said. “It’s kind of nice to brag about it.”
The Buckeyes followed last year’s disappointing end to the regular season with a disappointing end to the postseason when they dropped their first-round match to Oregon State, 3-1.
Maxwell said this season’s opponent, along with the Buckeyes’ preparation, should help avoid another upset.
“Just focus on St. Francis right now. Take it a game at a time. We know a few things about St. Francis, so I say it’s a comfortable job for us,” Maxwell said. “Last year with Oregon State, we didn’t know anything about them. I’d say this year it’s just one game at a time.”
On-the-field success translated into postseason honors for the Buckeyes, who were awarded three of the four individual Big Ten honors this season as Maxwell was named the Offensive Player of the Year, senior defender Cassie Dickerson was named Defensive Player of the Year, and Walker was named Coach of the Year. Both Maxwell and Dickerson were named first team All-Big Ten, as was sophomore midfielder Tiffany Cameron.
Other Buckeyes recognized for their play this season include midfielder Danica Wu and goalie Rachel Middleman, who were named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team, and senior defender Lauren Beachy, who was named as OSU’s Sportsmanship Award Honoree.
OSU enters the postseason on an impressive defensive streak, having only given up multiple goals in a game once in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes made a late season switch in goal, replacing Middleman with junior Katie Baumgardner, who was named this week’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.
“She’s come up huge,” Jenkins said. “She’s a junior for us, so her leadership back there and just her vocal presence has been a big help for us.”
Although the player in net for the Buckeyes has changed, Walker said her team’s philosophy hasn’t heading into the postseason.
“They’re really staying open to coaching, which this point in the season can sometimes be difficult,” Walker said. “We’re just going to kind of stay put with what we’ve been doing all year, which is just taking it one game at a time.”