2005 Women's Soccer Season Outlook
Aug. 2, 2005
After capturing the 2004 Big Ten tournament title, reaching the "Elite Eight" of the NCAA tournament on their home field and posting an OSU women's soccer all-time best record of 19-4-3, the 2005 Buckeyes are eager to set their own mark on Ohio State women's soccer history. Ohio State returns its Top 3 scorers and the core of its attack in Lara Dickenmann, Lisa Grubb and Danielle Dietrich, in addition to a defensive unit that allowed an OSU record-low 18 goals led by All-American Melissa Miller and co-captain Emily Francis. Head Coach Lori Walker, who embarks upon her ninth season at the helm, is prepared to guide this new group of Buckeyes and although she and the team recognize the impact last season will have on the 2005 squad, Walker and Co., are focused on the future.
"We certainly are not going to go into the 2005 season looking back on what we did last year," Walker, a member of three-time NCAA champion North Carolina during her playing career (1989-91) said. "Every season is a whole new team and I think one of our biggest challenges is not to look behind us, but to look forward and set new challenges for ourselves. After being a part of the success of last year, this group of players knows that when everything is moving in the same direction anything is possible. Our team certainly feels they have gained a lot of experience and they want this team to remain a winning program."
Additional key contributors to leadership include Francis, Miller and Dietrich, who is only 1-of-3 players to register 30 points in a season at Ohio State. Walker anticipates that both Francis and Dietrich will add important intangibles to the team, such as being aware of the squad's daily off-the-field lives and providing a lighter and more carefree approach to the game, which can become a vital edge towards the end of the season. Miller, a two-time National Soccer Coaches Association (NSCAA) Second-Team All-America recipient is expected to assume a more aggressive and vocal presence after the departure of two-time team MVP Erica Nollen.
"Melissa Miller really stepped up in the offseason," Walker said. "She has become more vocal in the absence of Erica Nollen and is recognizing she has to have a vocal, as well as a physical, presence in the backline. In the offseason, Melissa worked hard to improve herself technically and she has learned to not just rely on her athleticism, but to make better and quicker decisions."
In addition, sophomore Keiana Mitchell is expected to offer her respective leadership abilities in the backline after starting 12 matches, including seven during the postseason.
"Keiana Mitchell is a natural born leader. She plays best when she is having fun and not taking anything too seriously."
"I have great confidence in the leadership that our captains, Lisa and Emily, will give to this team and the program as a whole," Walker, who led the Buckeyes to a No. 8 ranking in the final national polls last season, said. "From the nominations of the team to the voting, it is clear the players strongly believe in both captains. I applaud the team for making such great choices on who they want to lead them into another tremendous season."
"The No. 1 core value of our team is our defensive effort," Walker said. "To be fit enough to high press to create turnovers and transition will continue to be the cornerstone for us."
Because of the tremendous depth that characterizes the team, Ohio State will look to set the tone in its matches and maintain a free-flowing attack, which became a successful tool for OSU last season. With unparalleled depth, the Buckeyes will have help at each position, locating and developing varying lines on the field.
"Our depth allows us to come at teams in different ways and make adjustments when necessary, so we can continue to play at a high level," Walker said. "We will be able to set the tone of the game by having tremendous motion up top and interchanging positions will make defending us difficult."
In the backfield, Ohio State boasts a trio of defenders in Miller, Francis and Mitchell. Miller and Francis, who started all 26 contests and Mitchell, who started 12 games, will look to lower the Buckeyes' record-setting goals against average of 0.67.
As OSU gears up for seven two-game weekends, a deep bench will be crucial in 2005. The tandem of junior goalkeeper Shannon Neely and sophomore Staci Sinkway will rotate much of the 2005 season, as Walker plans to utilize each keeper's respective strengths. Each will see time during the season depending on various situations.
"Both players were extremely competitive during the spring and Neely has blossomed in the absence of (Jennifer) Heaney and (Emily) Haynam," Walker said. "Neely is a tremendous shot stopper and is very quick. She has a good understanding of team dynamics and leadership, whereas Sinkway is one of the most technically gifted goalkeepers I have ever trained. Her hands are like Velcro. Her ability to read the game and have a common presence to the defense is really special."
Dickenmann, Dietrich and Grubb will anchor a deep offensive nucleus, where all three have the potential to frustrate defenses. Dickenmann, a Soccer America Most Valuable Player recipient, shattered OSU single-season records in goals (13), assists (12) and points (38) and was named Soccer Buzz Freshman of the Year. She will serve as an attacking central midfielder.
"Lara is an important piece to the success of our equation," Walker said. "She is more athletic and talented than we even realized. Her ability to distribute the ball and maintain possession, while creating combinational plays opens up our attack. There is no doubt she is unbelievably dangerous with the ball on her foot, running at a backline."
Dietrich's role on the team is predicted to slightly alter, as she will be playing more in the midfield, as opposed to playing up top, which was the norm last season. In addition to her leadership role, Grubb, who was named a NSCAA Second-Team All-Great Lakes Region All-American in 2004, will look to remain a consistent force after tallying 12 goals and 10 assists for 34 points in 24 starts last season.
Forwards Heather Young and Carleta Arbulu, along with midfielder Stickler will add an increased presence after making their OSU debuts last season.
"Lisa has worked hard to become a more sophisticated forward," Walker said. "She has integrated herself into our free-flowing, attacking style and she is extremely powerful and quick. Lisa also is the type of player who becomes dangerous in getting behind the backline of a defense."
Colfer, who graduated early from high school to join the Buckeyes in March, will provide added savy and scoring ability. With the early start, Colfer had the advantage of getting acclimated with the OSU system. Walker predicts Colfer will be a versatile player, who can play any line. A product of Colonie Central High School in Albany, N.Y., Colfer twice was named an NSCAA/Adidas High School All-American (2003 and `04). She also is the first Suburban Council player to score more than 100 career goals (103 goals/31 assists). In addition, Colfer led the Yankee United Hurricanes to the Connecticut U-17 state cup championship in 2004 and was a member of the Albertson Express U-18 team, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation and won the state championship for four consecutive years (2002-05). She also was selected to play on the Region 1 ODP and was the representative for Team USA in the 2004 International U-17 Tournament in Castlebar, Ireland.
"We like to play an exciting attack-oriented style at Ohio State," Walker said. "With all three forward starters returning, the young talent already here and the attack-minded newcomers, there certainly will be a great variety in the ways we can score next season."
Additionally, Walker and her staff landed an exciting Ohio product in Graeff defender. A two-time member of the ODP Region II team, Graeff played for Westerville North High School and was a member of the 2002, `03 and `04 district and state teams. Graeff also was the 2004 OCC Player of the Year and earned numerous all-state awards.
"Amy will contribute to our backline fairly quickly," Walker said. "She can play central or outside defender. She is a hardnosed defender, who is a student of the game, doing the most she can to learn and understand the different systems of play."
The Buckeyes also will use the services of a pair of Georgia student-athletes in Lu, a midfielder, and Cripps, who is a goalkeeper. Lu, a native of Peachtree City, Ga., was a standout member of the Peachtree City Lazers, where she led her team to the 2004 Region III finals. Lu participated with the Region III Pool from 2000-02 and played for the Georgia ODP for three years.
"Christine comes from a Buckeye family, so she has a tremendous amount of passion and understanding of Ohio State traditions," Walker said. "She felt an immediate connection with the team."
Cripps played goalkeeper for the United Quest team and was a four-year letterwinner at North Cobb High School. Her United Quest team won the 2004 State Cup Championship and was runner-up in 2002. She was named to the Georgia All-State team from 2002-04 and was selected to the regional camp team in 2002 and `03.
"Courtney will add further depth to the roster," Walker said. "She is very athletic and has good foot skills. She will be given some time to learn under the tutelage of Shannon Neely and Staci Sinkway."
Ohio State's first home match pits the Buckeyes against Kentucky of the Southeastern Conference Sunday, Sept. 11. After the home opener, the Scarlet and Gray head back to the road for a trip to the east coast. On Sept. 15, Ohio State faces Harvard of the Ivy League in a weekday matinee, set to kick off at 1:30 p.m. The Buckeyes close their trek to the Atlantic coast with a match against Northeastern (Sept. 17).
Upon their return from New England, the Big Ten schedule looms as the Buckeyes head north for the Michigan two-step, playing the Wolverines Sept. 23, followed by Michigan State Sept. 25.
"The Big Ten is always up for grabs," Walker said. "There is not an easy game in the conference. There is a lot of respect for this league top-to-bottom and we cannot count anyone out. For that reason, it is crucial that we play a demanding out-of-conference schedule to prepare for what lies ahead in the Big Ten season."
After the Michigan swing, Ohio State welcomes a five-game homestand, starting with Illinois Sept. 30 and ending with Penn State Oct. 14. Last season the Buckeyes defeated the Nittany Lions, 2-0, in the Big Ten championship to claim their second conference title in four years. In between the Fighting Illini and Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes play host to Iowa (Oct. 2), Indiana (Oct. 7) and Purdue (Oct. 9).
The league season ends with another daunting road test. First, Ohio State heads to Minneapolis to weather the cold against the Golden Gophers (Oct. 16) before it is off to the windy city to play Northwestern (Oct. 21) and then Wisconsin (Oct. 23) to conclude the Big Ten regular season.
The Buckeyes have a non-conference tune up against Morehead State to end the October schedule before heading back to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the Big Ten tournament Nov. 3-6.