June 13, 2001
A commitment to physical readiness, mental toughness and discipline will unite 18 returning players with the 12 newcomers to the 2001 Ohio State women's soccer squad. Defense will help the Buckeyes win games. Confidence will make them national contenders.
Fifth-year head coach Lori Walker exudes confidence in her young team, which started the 2000 season nationally ranked but fell out of the Top 20 after injuries reduced its roster by six.
"With a healthy returning squad, we are a very competitive team," Walker said. "We are confident in our abilities, but I believe there are teams on our schedule that are going to take us for granted. We had a down year last season. It wasn't because we were a bad team, we just encountered some unfortunate circumstances."
With the onset of the 2001 campaign, Walker is moving beyond the 6-13 record and the injuries. She is preparing to lead an energetic and talented group of student-athletes who have grown as a result of misfortune.
"I feel we've regenerated after a tough year," Walker said. "We had to take a long, hard look in the mirror and sort out what happened and why. We have no excuses. This season brings a fresh start. Our schedule is a difficult one but reflects my confidence. We are ready to be a national contender but as always, we will have to start with the Big Ten."
The Buckeyes' focus in the spring was primarily on team defense and should aid in their quest to climb back into contention in the conference.
"Defense wins games. Our motto has become 'The Defense Never Rests,'" Walker said. "We want to be the best defensive team in the Big Ten. Our focus is on defending as a unit, being organized behind the ball and in transition.
"When we play collectively on both sides of the ball, we create transition goal-scoring opportunities because of our positioning and how hard we work on defense. If we never rest on defense, it will be hard to beat us."
The Keeper Situation
Without question, the Buckeyes will rely on their netminder to be the last line of defense and lay the groundwork for their offensive attack. However, it is anybody's guess who will mind the net this season.
With the departure of four-year starter Amber Barnes, the only returning candidate for the starting goalkeeper spot is sophomore Anna Mitchell. Mitchell, the No. 2 keeper last season, saw action in the Louisville match Oct.28, playing 29 minutes and recording one save.
Jennifer Ulrey is coming off her freshman redshirt season and will be competing for time with incoming freshmen Jen Heaney and Michelle Muhme. Heaney is a viable candidate for the starting role in net because of her vocal presence, strength and ability to play on her feet, while Muhme brings tremendous size to the back line.
"The goalkeeper position is completely wide open," Walker said. "We're looking for someone to step in and have a presence, someone who can command the box and make simple saves, yet is able to use her feet and distribute well out of the back."
Ohio State's defensive line is the most mature Walker has had in her four-year tenure. If the focus this season is on team defense, the pivotal players are Jen Miller, Lizzy Moore, Becky Broering and Liz White. They will compete for starting positions in the back line with freshmen Erica Nollen, Paige Harrison, Jen Kaperak, Tammy McCarroll and Stacia Daum.
Miller, who Walker calls the most consistent player on the team, is the cornerstone of the Buckeye defense and is the set-piece specialist. As a sophomore in 2000, Miller tallied a team-leading six assists-good enough for third in the record books-and started all 19 matches. Soccer America selected Miller for its team of the week for her performance and assist on Jennica Kidd's gamewinner against then-No. 18 Florida State Sept. 3.
In the absence of Amanda Orr who graduated in 2000, Moore will serve as more of an attacker at outside back rather than a holding, central player. The team's most valuable defensive player last year, Moore was an All-Ohio honoree after starting 17 of 19 matches in 2000.
Broering, a junior, returns to the lineup at outside left back after obtaining a medical redshirt last season. A transfer in Spring 1999, Broering was a two-year standout at midfield for Purdue. As a sophomore in 1999, she was the Boilermakers' leading scorer, starting in 14 of 19 matches and tallying 13 points from six goals and an assist. Broering brings much-needed versatility to the Buckeye lineup, as she is capable of playing anywhere on the field.
White earned a starting spot in the spring after seeing minimal playing time in the midfield last season. Expected to be the vocal leader of the back line, White will compete for starting rights in the center and enable Moore to slide to an outside spot.
Walker said newcomer Erica Nollen is a "calm and composed technical player who reads the game well and solves problems through organization rather than with physical stature." Nollen is the strongest contender to start in the outside back line. Harrison and Kaperak both bring size, at 5-feet-9 inches, and can play either centrally or wide. McCarroll traditionally has been a central defender and will provide the defense with depth along with freshman Stacia Daum. A broken leg forced Daum to redshirt last season, but she returns this year to compete for playing time.
"We are not a defensive-minded team," Walker said, "but we are a team that is going to win games because of our tireless work rate on defense and our perfect positioning."
The Buckeyes' anchor at midfield is senior Emily Thorpe. In 2000, Thorpe finished second on the team in scoring (1G, 6A) for the second-consecutive season. She started all 19 matches, scored Ohio State's first goal of the season in the opener against Oakland and led the team in assists with Jen Miller.
"Thorpe, a co-captain last year, is returning as the fastest technical player on the team with the ball at her feet," Walker said. "She has been our left-mid for three years and I anticipate her role will not change."
Brooke Thomas, also a senior, has recovered from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury that reduced her junior season to 11 matches.
"Thomas is returning from her injury as the most crafty, technical player on the team. Her vision is extraordinary and we are looking for a great senior season from Brooke. She can fill in anywhere on the field."
The midfield also returns juniors Kiley Enmark and Shelley Besson. Enmark, a specialist at defensive center-mid, excels in distributing balls and changing the point of attack. She also is a set-piece artist, taking free kicks within shooting range. Besson started all 19 matches last season and will play on the right side.
Returning junior Kara Brant and sophomore Jennica Kidd will fill in as utility players. Brant has provided the Buckeyes with depth the past two seasons and will play either at midfield or in the back line. Kidd contributed immediately at defense as a freshman, playing in 18-of-19 matches and scoring the game-winning goal in the Florida State match. She should see time on defense and in the midfield.
Emily Gilbert will lead the freshmen in the midfield and will compete for minutes with Elizabeth Mumley. Mumley is a fast, technical player with a lot of experience at the club level.
The Front Runners
"The front line is where we have the most depth," Walker said.
Lindsay Eckles leads the strong core of returning forwards for the third-consecutive season. The Buckeyes' leading scorer as a freshman and sophomore, Eckles looks to improve on her 10-goal, four-assist performance of a year ago. Selected as the team's most valuable offensive player in 2000, Eckles led the conference in goal scoring for the first half of the season and was named to the Soccer America Team of the Week for her hat trick in Ohio State's 3-2 upset of then-No. 12 Missouri.
Seniors Courtney Nein, Melanie Vierling and Brynn Catino join Eckles up front. After successful freshman and sophomore campaigns, Nein saw action in just nine matches in 2000 before heading to the sidelines with an ACL tear. Catino and Vierling have played valuable reserve roles in the Buckeye attack for the past three seasons.
"Nein is back from her injury as our most mobile forward," Walker said. "She opens up opportunities for our other front runners. Vierling and Catino have given us quality minutes over the years and work extremely hard on defense."
Sarah Lanham, a junior, is a talented and versatile player who also could see action anywhere on the field. The team's most improved player in 1999 and 2000, Lanham started 17-of-19 matches and her seven points (3G, 1A) ranked her tied for third in scoring with Enmark.
Lisa Grubb is the top freshman candidate for a starting spot in the front line. A quick and fast wide player, Grubb specializes in 1-v.-1 and getting end line. Freshmen Holly Cram and Heather Miller will add depth up front, as will sophomore transfer Jackie Shirer. Shirer was the leading scorer at South Alabama as a freshman. She started all 21 matches and led the Jaguars with 12 goals and five assists for 29 points.
Finally, A Place To Call Home
On August 31, 2001, Ohio State will play host to its first night game in the recently constructed Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Although the field has seen competition for two seasons, the new grandstand, lights, working press box, locker rooms and offices provide a professional stadium atmosphere and arguably are the nicest in the country.
"The field surface is one of the best in the country," Walker said. "Now with all the amenities nearly complete, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better facility in the nation. It's a nice selling point for us.
"The atmosphere is very professional for teams to play in and the environment is great for fans to come out and watch the games. The starting times will be more convenient for fans as well."
Walker is most excited for her five graduating seniors to get a chance to play in the new facility, something they have been looking forward to their entire careers.
"It's an exciting time, especially for this senior class," Walker said. "Of all the classes I've had, this one has had to endure the most-every single one of them has dealt with a major injury. They are a very seasoned group, the largest class I've had since becoming a Buckeye. These seniors will provide us with the leadership necessary to help shape a large freshman class."
That the Buckeyes will face stiff competition in the Big Ten Conference this season is a given. Penn State, the lone school in the conference to advance to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2000, is a perennial powerhouse. Michigan will provide strong opposition after falling to the Nittany Lions in three overtime periods in the conference championships, as will Wisconsin and Illinois.
"Competing in the Big Ten is unbelievably difficult every year," Walker said. "Every game is harder than the last. I think this year in particular we are going to have the best level of competition ever in the Big Ten. At the same time, our out-of-conference schedule is one of the most difficult we've ever had. I think that shows we are confident that even though we had a down year, that's not a reflection of where the program is and who we are as a team."
Ohio State will count Walker's alma mater, defending national champion North Carolina, among its visitors to Jesse Owens in 2001. The Buckeyes' matchup with the top-ranked Tar Heels is slated for 7 p.m. Nov. 3, the final game of the season, which means Ohio State will have to get past UConn and Kentucky first.
"UConn, Kentucky and UNC are all Top 10 programs I decided to add to our schedule," Walker said. "Connecticut is going to be a fantastic game and right away will give us a read on the rest of the season. Boston College will not be an easy match either. Kentucky is a big game. Quite a few players from Ohio have gone across the border to play in Kentucky so it's a natural rivalry. Obviously, the North Carolina game will be a treat."
Walker believes preparation is the key to a successful season in 2001.
"Our goal is to pick up where we finished last spring. It was one of the best offseasons we've had in terms of getting players back and being healthy. We've focused a lot in the weight room and on speed training to make sure our legs are strong. Coming into preseason, we hope to avoid those nagging injuries that can erupt into major problems come midseason. I am particularly proud of this roster and look forward to the new challenges ahead."