Women's Soccer Plays On National Stage

Not many expected the Ohio State women's soccer team would get this far, but the Buckeyes have made program history with their first College Cup appearance. Next up is an NCAA semifinal with Notre Dame on Friday afternoon (ESPN2/ESPNU) in which the upstart Buckeyes, led by coach Lori Walker will attempt to make the national title game.

Before the 2010 season began, the seniors on the Ohio State women's soccer team came up with a buzzword for the season: "Reach."

The Buckeyes had armbands featuring the slogan made up and distributed before the season, but even they couldn't have predicted just how perfect it would be.

After capturing a share of the Big Ten regular season for the first time ever, Ohio State has continued to make history in the postseason, reaching its initial Women's College Cup. The Buckeyes will take on Notre Dame today at 4 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPNU) in Cary, N.C., for a spot in the national championship game.

"Each year we have a little slogan that we take to, especially when it gets hard," said one of those seniors, Lauren Steuer. "It's something that we all know what it means to give a little more, even just for the teammate next to us, and reach that extra mile. We all know we're capable of it. It helps to have each others' backs."

Having advanced further than any team before it, the Buckeyes (17-4-2) are reaching new ground with every step. That could have a positive or negative impact on today's contest.

The Fighting Irish have reached the College Cup each of the last five seasons and six of the past seven. The 2004 national champion, Notre Dame also reached the title game in 2006 and '08, making the team veterans of the postseason process.

With that pedigree as well as a better regular-season ranking, Notre Dame will be favored to move on over the Buckeyes, but Lori Walker said that could play into OSU's hands.

"I think you can spin it either way you want," she said. "I think there's some youthful energy about us. I think sometimes being naïve to what the whole experience is going ot be like can be to your advantage. Our hope is that Notre Dame is looking past us and they're looking right at (undefeated) Stanford and that's the team that they want to put their energy into."

Coming off a second-place finish in the Big Ten last year and a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes weren't fancied coming into the season. The team started the year unranked and then opened with a loss against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A six-game unbeaten streak followed before another loss in Arizona to No. 19 Arizona State, the only ranked team OSU played in the nonconference slate.

However, the Buckeyes picked up steam from there, winning seven straight games, including the first six Big Ten contests. After losing a pair of league contests, OSU finished the year with a win against Michigan State that clinched the Big Ten title.

Ohio State was given the No. 3 seed in its regional, and from there the Buckeyes lived dangerously, needing the first career goal from junior Danielle Scoliere in overtime to dispatch St. Francis (Pa.) before beating Dayton in penalty kicks.

Next came a surprising result to many, the Buckeyes' 3-2 win at second-seeded Virginia in the round of 16, a game in which OSU jumped out to a 3-0 lead before holding on. Finally, OSU downed Georgetown, 2-0, in Columbus last Friday to reach the NCAA semifinals and earn the trip to Cary.

"I think that there's an easier mentality for this group to be the underdog," Walker said. "There were times in the season when we were the favored team and it was more difficult for me to get them prepared and into the right mind-set. As soon as we got into a situation where we weren't the higher seed or we weren't he one that they thought was going to win, there was just this calm that came about them."

Before the NCAA tournament started, Walker sat her team down and put the bug in its ear that it could make it this far. She added that a few rolled their eyes, but Steuer said no one is laughing now.

"When you start from the beginning before you even play the first game, you look at it and it's kind of a long road," Steuer said. "So you look at it like, ‘Yeah, she's crazy, there's no way to make it to the final four.' I think people knew that we had the ability, but now that it's here I think people really grasp it."

Walker, who won four national titles as a goalkeeper at North Carolina in the early 1990s, said that it was her job as a coach to believe in the team even before it did. With that work done, Walker went back to her bag of motivational tricks Monday, bringing her championship rings to a team meeting.

By then, the team was already back at practice after its historic win vs. the Hoyas, and the Buckeyes hope to play the same game come Friday afternoon.

"We're just trying to stick to what we know," defender Liz Sullivan said. "After practice every day we grade our work rate and grade our soccer, and those are things that can be consistent throughout the year. We're just looking to raise the level in both of those areas and stick to what we do well."

Get To Know The Buckeyes
Forward: Ohio State's leading scorer is junior Paige Maxwell, who has put 10 goals into the net this year and also has five game winners. With good size at 5-9, she's a threat in the air and scores often on headers. Speedy sophomore Tiffany Cameron added seven goals, including a magnificent chip vs. Georgetown in the quarterfinals. Sophomore Lauren Granberg also adds size (5-10) and speed and had four goals with five assists. Junior Caitlyn Martin added three tallies and spells the three main strikers with a fair amount of hustle.

Midfield: Ohio State will likely start Steuer, another senior in Courtney Jenkins (who won the NCAA Elite 88 award for having the best GPA at the College Cup) and a true freshman in Danica Wu. Steuer is a good distributor with a team-best nine assists, while Jenkins is a steady presence and Wu adds attacking flair and toughness. OSU has also given true freshman Kristen Niederhaus 15 starts, and she adds something going forward with pure height at 5-11.

Scoliere, who can play anywhere, suffered facial injuries during a challenge vs. Dayton and needed surgery.

Defense: Ohio State's true strength is defense, as the Buckeyes have allowed only 14 goals in 23 games this season. In addition, teams are averaging only 3.4 shots on goal per game.

The undisputed leader is Cassie Dickerson, who has come back from a number of surgeries to post an excellent season, and she is a first-team All-American and one of 15 semifinalists for the Hermann Trophy that goes to the best player in the game. She's joined in the middle by freshman Megan Fuller, who is second on the team in minutes played.

Senior Lauren Beachy is a dependable outside back who can add to the attack going forward and can also bury a penalty kick, as evidenced by her goal vs. Georgetown. Sullivan is also excellent at going forward as a fullback, as evidenced by her two goals and five assists.

Goalkeeper: Ohio State gave true freshman Rachel Middleman 17 starts but she hit a rough patch near the middle of the Big Ten season. That led to junior Katie Baumgardner taking over, and she has gone 6-3-2 with a .818 save percentage and 0.64 goals-against average. Baumgardner also made a crucial save in OSU's win on penalties vs. Dayton and is a veteran presence.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories