After losing the first game of the season 4-0 and losing in the final round of the OAC tournament for the last two years, the journey to victory has been a long one for the Ohio Northern women’s soccer team.
This season, Northern has not lost since that first game. They went into last weekend’s OAC Tournament having won 14 straight games.
ONU played Otterbein in the first game of the tournament. The game was evenly matched throughout, with both teams scoring one goal in regulation.
When time ran out, the game went to overtime — then double-overtime — when neither team scored in the first set of 15 minutes. After the clock ran out on the second overtime, the game went to penalty kicks.
For Ohio Northern, this scenario played to their advantage, as their goalie — sophomore Meagan Grierson — led the OAC in goals-against average during the regular season.
Nonetheless, penalty kicks can be one of the most exciting and stressful events in soccer. “Just even standing on that line sick to your stomach knowing this could be now or never,” senior defender Hannah Reich, describes “taking that PK is very nerve-wracking.”
Penalty kicks also are the time for the goalkeeper to shine. Grierson blocked three of Otterbein’s five penalty kicks, which was enough to propel ONU to victory.
“I was extremely confident in our girls, but it is penalty kicks and anything can go anyway,” head coach Mark Batman said. “Meagan was unbelievable in those moments, and those are the moments she loves.”
The OAC Tournament championship game went smoother, with Ohio Northern beating Capital 2-0. With this win, ONU won the OAC Tournament and became the first team in program history to win the conference regular season and tournament crowns.
Ohio Northern will host Penn St.-Behrend on Saturday morning, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Penn St.-Behrend enters the competition with a 15-4-1 record. Ohio Northern enters the competition with a 17-1-2 record.
Ohio Northern is hosting the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history, and the home-field advantage could potentially serve as an advantage for the Polar Bears, who have yet to lose at Kerscher Stadium this season.
A lot of work went into the success of the women’s soccer team. A strong defense is one of the reasons the team has been so successful. The Polar Bears have surrendered just 11 goals this season, which led the OAC.
“It’s overall defending, it’s not just the defense defending” Reich explains, “I think it’s that the defense starts ten yards into our attacking half, it starts right there with our forwards. So I think [it’s] more waiting for it to get to us. We have kind of started that defense earlier and everyone helps with that, it’s not just the defenders.”
Batman feels there is no one player who sticks out on this year’s team, which has relied on leadership from both it’s upper and underclassmen.
“We haven’t had one player consistently dominate a game,” Batman said. “It’s been really spread out and I think that is one of our biggest assets.”
This weekend, ONU will make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2012. Their matchup with Penn St.-Behrend will begin at 11:30 a.m. at Kerscher Stadium.