Aug. 11, 2004
There is much optimism at Ohio State going into the 2004 season. And why not? The Buckeyes are rich in experience with the return of all 11 starters and 22 letter winners from a team that finished a program best 13-5-3 and gained its second consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament in 2003.
Lori Walker, who enters her eighth season as head coach at Ohio State, possesses a roster that boasts nine seniors and expressed that the 2004 squad could be the best of her tenure.
"This year the focus will be on leadership," Walker, who claimed three NCAA championships in her collegiate career as a goalkeeper at North Carolina (1989-91), said. "I believe our seniors are developed and anxious to embrace the leadership role."
Walker will have many weapons to choose from in 2004 including the return of two-time leading goal scorer Lisa Grubb, who missed nearly all of the 2003 after suffering an injury in the season-opening game. The Buckeyes also return 2003 All-American and sophomore defender Melissa Miller, who was named to the 2003 Big Ten All-Freshman team and junior forward Colleen Hoban, a 2003 Great Lakes All-Region selection and OSU's leading scorer with 24 points.
LOADS OF LEADERSHIP
With the return of nine seniors, who all have seen their share of game action, the Buckeyes feature one the most experienced and deepest teams in Ohio State annals.
The senior class is led by four-year defensive starter and 2003 Most Valuable Player and 2004 co-captain Erica Nollen. In 2003, Nollen led a defensive unit that gave up an OSU all-time low 17 goals and a 0.77 goals against average.
The senior class also features 2003 Offensive Most Valuable Player Kathy Fulk on the frontline. Fulk was second on the team in scoring with five goals and four assists last season.
Midfielder Emily Gilbert, the recipient of the team's Elise S. Hamilton Gift of Fury Award for her spirited play, will provide leadership as a second co-captain through her physical style. Heather Miller, who totaled a team-high 42 shots, gives the Buckeyes a boost with perhaps the strongest leg on the team. "Every year this class has improved at taking new steps in success," Walker said. "In their second year, they went and won the 2002 Big Ten Tournament and gained their first NCAA tournament bid. Last year, they went back to the NCAA's and claimed their first win. With the experience these players have gained over the past three years, I think they can find what it will take to play in December for a national championship."
Three-year starters Liz Mumley and Paige Harrison also will be looked to provide leadership. Mumley, who was named to the 2003 All-Big Ten Tournament team, was third on the squad in scoring with 12 points. Harrison, who joins teammate Erica Nollen to solidify the backline, tallied seven assists to help lead the Scarlet and Gray to 41 goals on the season.
Ohio State also possesses two veteran goalkeepers in seniors Emily Haynam and Jen Heaney. Haynam played in 15 games last year, posting a record of 5-2-2 and a GAA of 1.00, including two shutouts. Heaney averaged a 0.00 GAA in three games. She also contributed at the forward post, scoring a goal against Dayton in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Along with the talented class of seniors, the Buckeyes feature an excellent crop of juniors and sophomores.
Hoban will once again provide the Buckeyes with a scoring spark. The junior tallied a team-high 10 goals and four assists last season, which included four game-winning strikes.
Danielle Dietrich gives the Buckeyes added depth at midfield. The junior played in 20 games last season, netting three goals and four assists for 10 points.
Sophomore keeper Staci Sinkway returns after a sensational freshman campaign. Sinkway burst into the Buckeye lineup with a 1-0 shutout of then-No.6 Virginia to help OSU to a program best 5-game win streak to start the season. Since that contest, she has proven herself as a worthy and reliable keeper for the Buckeyes. In her first collegiate season, Sinkway finished with a 5-3-1 record, a team-best GAA of 0.59 and two shutouts.
The Buckeyes have much to celebrate with their 2004 recruiting class. The seven-member class will bolster an Ohio State team that is coming off its best season in the 10-year history of the program.
Walker is thrilled with the talented players the team has added and expects each to make immediate contributions to the nationally-recognized Buckeye program.
Walker added an international flavor to the recruit class this season as Lara Dickenmann, a native of Kriens, Switzerland joins the Buckeyes after a standout career as a starter for the Swiss National Team and its Under-19 (U-19) squad.
"Adding outstanding players from different regions and backgrounds brings a unique flavor to our team," Walker said. "Dickenmann is arguably the top player in Switzerland and she is an experienced winner, playing on two Swiss national championship teams."
The Buckeyes also welcomed two top commitments from California in forwards Heather Young and Carleta Arbulu.
Young is a six-time member of the Southern California state team, a five-year member of the Region IV Olympic Development (ODP) team and competed for the USYS National All-Star Team in April 2003, playing matches against the national teams from Germany and Holland.
Arbulu is a five-year member of the Southern California state team and a four-year competitor on the Region IV ODP team.
In addition to an impressive out-of-region and international class, Walker added a trio of stellar Ohio products in Lindsay Mays, Keianna Mitchell and Heather Roberts, who all are veterans of the ODP system.
The Buckeyes added offensive punch in Mays, while Mitchell and Roberts come to Ohio State as renowned defenders and multiple all-league selections at their respective schools. Mitchell was named to Cincinnati All-City teams following the 2001, '02 and '03 seasons, while Roberts climaxed her scholastic career as All-Ohio, All-Midwest and NSCAA All-American.
"One of our goals every year is to keep the best players in Ohio at home," Walker said. "We are so excited that such talented players have chosen to carry on all of the traditions that make Ohioans so proud to be Buckeyes like Mays, Mitchell and Roberts."
The Buckeyes, who played a daunting out of conference schedule in 2003, will once again face a full slate of challenges in 2004, highlighted by a trip west to meet 2002 National Champion Portland (Aug. 27) and a consistent top-25 team in Washington (Aug. 29). The road also features matches against conference foes Michigan State (Oct. 1), Michigan (Oct. 3) and defending Big Ten Champion Penn State (Oct. 22). The home schedule includes matches against LSU (Sept. 9), Virginia Tech (Sept. 12) and Loyola-Chicago (Oct. 24).
"Knowing we have a big and experienced senior class, we wanted to challenge ourselves with matches against some of the nation's top teams," Walker said. "I think we are competing against some tremendous programs early on. The trip out west to begin the season will be very demanding of our senior leaders. Portland and Washington have two of the better programs in the country. I believe meeting these teams will prepare us for our Big Ten slate."
The Buckeyes will finish the season with home matches against two Ohio squads in Kent State (Oct. 27) and Toledo (Oct. 30) before hosting the Big Ten Tournament Nov. 4-7 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
"There is no question this is a tough schedule," Walker said. "But if we want to prepare ourselves to play for the Big Ten championship and a chance to play in December having a tough schedule is the best way to accomplish our goals."
2004 BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
Ohio State's Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium will serve as the stage to celebrate the 10th annual Big Ten women's soccer tournament Nov. 4-7. The tournament, which makes its first trip to Columbus since 1996, welcomes the Top 8 teams in the league standings as each vies for the postseason title and a coveted automatic berth to the NCAA championships.
Since the initial tournament at Madison, Wis. in 1994, the postseason setting has served as an exciting climax to each Big Ten campaign, often highlighted by several upsets and thrilling tournament runs. In 2002, Ohio State entered the bracket as the No. 7 seed and knocked off two nationally-ranked opponents in sudden death penalty kicks to reach the finals where OSU handled Wisconsin, 2-1, to gain its first berth to the NCAA tournament.
Indiana was crowned 1996 team champion in the last Big Ten tournament held in Columbus. Penn State owns the most postseason titles with three, while Michigan trails with two and Ohio State is joined by Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and 2003 Big Ten winner Illinois with one team championship.
After suffering a devastating, season-ending injury in the first game of 2003, Buckeye forward Lisa Grubb will look to start over and hence gain the form that brought her two team offensive MVP honors in 2001 and 2002. After a year of rehab, Grubb will be able to compete in 2004 and in doing so, will give the Buckeyes added fire power to an already explosive offense.
"Lisa is ready and willing to play again," Walker said. "She is anxious to get back on the field. She adds a new dimension to this team with her team-chemistry and work ethic. Having her back will allow us to become a powerful offensive team."