Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Aug. 21 newspaper on Page A6.
At the end of the 2017 season, Ohio soccer made it to the MAC tournament and scored the first tourney goal in more than a decade, taking that match into overtime and losing on penalty kicks.
In 2018, the ‘Cats finished the regular season with a positive record both in and out of conference, then hosted and won a first round match, a program first.
Though graduating some outstanding defensive talent, Bobcat headman Aaron Rodgers feels that his 2019 squad will have no undue pressure on them this season. “Our team has a mature approach to this year and has the ability to establish their motivations as a team unit. They understand they have the opportunity to set a standard for Ohio soccer.”
To that end offensively, a number of the goal scorers return and Rodgers admits that he likes seeing his team scoring goals. “We want to amp up our scoring again this year, something we seek to do progressively season to season. I’d love to see someone score double digit goals, in fact.”
And there is a nice mix of returning scorers like senior threat Alivia Milesky, sophomore Abby Townsend, junior Serina Dirrig, senior Courtney Daugerdas and junior Paige Pappanastos.
“We saw some good things with our offensive scheme during our Spring season and, in fact, had the most team members meet the maximum fitness standards than ever at that point in the year.” Rodgers pointed out that another factor in the overall skill development was the number of players who were active in quality club soccer in the off season.
Defensively, there are slots that must be filled due to graduation but Rodgers has seasoned options to plug into the vacancies along with some talented recruits. Sydney Malham, a junior, returns to mind the nets after a solid 2018 campaign and sophomore keeper Sam Wexell showed well in the Spring. Guarding the terrain in front of them will be veterans Olivia Sensky, Paige Knorr, Alli Miller, Morgan Collica, Victoria Breeden, Sydney Leckie, and Taylor Dickerson, a blend of senior leadership and underclassmen that tested well in the Spring.
Rodgers’ midfield strategy revolves around a combination of 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formats depending on the flow of the game. With this setup he believes that it allows for effective counter attacks and flexible defending, so the midfielders need to be able to read the game and make quick, knowledged decisions.
Returnees Jenni Santacaterina, Lindsey Townsend, Mileski, Dirrig, Leckie, Daugerdas and Haley Miller will blend with newcomers to handle those responsibilities in the center of the pitch to both initiate the attack and disrupt opponents’ offensive attempts.
On the topic of newcomers, Rodgers has ten new faces to stir into the mixture, which include two transfers, two international players, new assistant Courtney Wiesler, and six freshmen from Ohio. Kelsey Adams is a tough sophomore defender transfer from Liberty University and high-scoring midfielder Konstantina Giannou, who played for the Greek youth national team, came in from nearby D2 Ohio Valley University.
Freshmen Tristan Whalen, Olivia Darrow and Jenna Kralik are talented midfielders who can provided both spark and stability. Defenders Heather McGuire and Ellie Ferguson might well push their way into the defensive line. Ferguson was a center back for the Irish youth national team. Forwards Olivia Page and Maddie Young both proved to be strong goal scorers in high school and club play. Reese Dorsey not only excelled as a goal keeper but also was a four-year varsity tackle football letter winner as a kicker.
The season starts on the road with an exhibition game against Youngstown State and then begin the regular season on Thursday against Eastern Kentucky at Chessa Field. The conference season kicks off in October with a number of home matches and, as always, admission is free at Chessa Field.
“Last year we were picked to finish eighth in the MAC and we did better than predicted. I think the MAC is wide open this year and we should be one of the contenders,” Rodgers commented. “I do know we’ll play some interesting soccer and the conference is always full of surprises.”
With two years’ of ascendant tournament appearances, the standards are continuing to be reset for Ohio soccer.