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Women’s soccer: Ohio State finding success before stretch run to playoffs

Ohio State senior midfielder Nikki Walts tracks a ball during the second half of the Buckeyes’ 7-0 win against Illinois at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on Sept. 14. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor

There’s a special vibe to the Ohio State women’s soccer team this year.

Nearing the end of what has been a dominant regular season, the No. 12 Buckeyes sit atop the Big Ten with a 12-3-1 record. They’ve lost just two matches to conference opponents (Northwestern and Rutgers) and posted a six-game shutout streak before it was snapped in a 1-0 loss to Rutgers Oct. 15.

Senior midfielder Nikki Walts said she believes their success is a direct result of the team’s chemistry.

“Every year is different, but talking with a lot of players, the vibe is just all-around great,” Walts said. “Each class is clicking. That’s a big part of being a team. The classes aren’t really defined in the locker room, and that’s great. Everyone has a good voice and everyone’s open to opinions this year.”

Walts is one of the main reasons the Scarlet and Gray have enjoyed such a great season.

The first-year captain has been a cornerstone of the program since arriving in 2014. Coming off a 2016 second-team All-Big Ten honor, Walts has compiled 11 points on two goals and eight assists this season.

Alongside Walts is another fellow captain, senior defender and forward Morgan Wolcott. No other player has seen more of the field this season than Wolcott, who’s logged 1,428 minutes.

It takes a full offseason of training and preparation to execute at a high level, Wolcott said.

“We were all here this past summer training, conditioning and lifting together,” she said. “It helps the freshmen get to know our team before the season starts. We watch film during the season to see what worked and what didn’t. We’re improving a lot game by game. As long as we’re getting that 1 percent better, the rest of the season should play out nicely.”

The coaching staff has continued to prove effective in getting the team ready every game.

In her 21st season at the helm of Ohio State, head coach Lori Walker-Hock is on track to lead the Scarlet and Gray to the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in eight years. The Buckeyes have made it to the tournament 11 of the past 15 seasons.

Walts said the cohesiveness of Walker-Hock and her staff is a difference-maker.

“They work really well together,” Walts said. “We’ve seen that throughout this past season. We kind of have a new formation, our backs are a little more dynamic. It was all really easy to jump onto. The coaches are big with video, pointing out little things we can do better. I think they do a great job collaborating.”

The tutelage doesn’t stop on the pitch, either.

Walker-Hock and the coaching staff incorporate subtle life lessons and sayings in their coaching every day. They try to push their players to be the best in all aspects of life.

“We ask their opinion on things that impact them directly, like how their bodies are feeling, nutrition, scheduling, the simple things,” Walker-Hock said. “One of the things we do well is take the lead on big things that matter. We try to show them, as well as teach them.”

With four games to go before postseason play begins, the Buckeyes are in the hunt to not only take home the Big Ten title, but make a run in the NCAA tournament.

Walker-Hock knows her team must remain focused amid high expectations, taking it one game at a time or risk a premature end to a promising season.

“We look at the next game in front of us,” Walker-Hock said. “There is no easy game in our conference. We’re not remotely thinking ahead, there’s too much soccer left in the season. We’ve all seen teams be in the position we are right now, and they fall apart. We’re just trying to keep our heads down, keep working hard, and just taking each game one at a time.”

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