For the Ohio State women’s soccer team, the season appeared to be at an end.
Held out of the Big Ten Tournament, it looked like the Buckeyes, including the second most successful senior class in program history, had played their last game when they fell to Michigan, 2-0, Nov. 2 in Ann Arbor.
But on Monday, OSU found out its season would continue, as the team was awarded a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and all coach Lori Walker can worry about is making sure her team makes it on the bus.
“I’m focused on getting on the bus right now, and making sure we have all the players and the pennies and the balls,” the 17-year veteran said Wednesday, referring to making sure all the players, jerseys and soccer balls are packed. “With this group, you’ve got to keep it that simple.”
Assuming the Buckeyes, and all necessary equipment, do make it on the bus, they are set to take on Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., at 7:30 p.m. Friday for their first-round matchup.
Walker called being selected a “great honor.”
“We’re going to go down and play Kentucky as hard as we can,” she added.
Senior defender Megan Fuller, part of a 2013 class that ranks second in program history with 55 wins, said it will be important to remember the significance of being selected.
“I know it’s the first time for the freshmen, so it’s something new and they’re really excited,” she said. “It’s an experience that not a lot of people get.”
This will be Fuller’s fourth consecutive NCAA berth, and the fifth straight for the OSU program.
The Buckeyes fell on penalty kicks after drawing, 1-1, against Oakland in the first round of the 2012 edition. OSU made it to the third round in 2011, the semifinals in 2010 and lost in the first round in 2009.
For players who were not around for previous tournaments, like freshman forward Nichelle Prince, the tournament represents a chance to make an early mark in their careers.
“We didn’t have the best season,” Prince said of the Buckeyes, who finished the year 10-6-3 overall and 4-5-2 in conference play. “This is kind of our comeback and I think we’re all pumped and ready to go.”
Prince, who led the team with 12 goals this season, said being held out of the Big Ten Tournament will not give the team a chip on its shoulder, but can still be a motivator going forward.
“This is just going to push us to get better,” she said. “We’re mad about not making (the Big Ten Tournament), but this is like a new slate, a new season, so we’re going to come out harder.”
While it will be Prince’s first run for a championship, Fuller said she wants to feed on her past chances going forward.
The 2011 Buckeyes, who, like their 2013 counterparts, squeaked their way into the tournament, ended up making an inspiring run, Fuller said.
“We went to the Sweet 16,” she said. “We were just having fun and playing and scoring lots of goals, so hopefully that’s what happens again.”
Walker added that her team could be a group nobody wants to play in the tournament, especially not the other teams in the Big Ten.
“We were the team that nobody would want to play again (in the conference),” she said. “It’s a nice compliment, but, at the same time, we didn’t get done what we wanted to get done.
“You’ve got to beat the top teams in order to be one of the best teams, and that’s the lesson we’re really trying to spill onto this young program.”
If the Buckeyes top Kentucky, they will likely set themselves up for a date with one of the best. OSU would be set up to face off against the winner of two-seed UCLA and San Diego State Nov. 22 in the round of 32.