Loyola’s women’s soccer season ended in a heartbreaking loss to Drake University in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament. The loss dropped the Ramblers’ final season record to 5-13-1. With only five wins, the season did not go as planned for Loyola. However, that record does not define the team’s skill level and ability to overcome adversity throughout the season.
Head Coach Barry Bimbi came into the season with a vision about how his team would perform before a number of unfortunate injuries tainted that plan and forced the team to reconfigure its normal lineups.
Players such as senior defender Valerie Gonyo — who was moved from defense to midfield — were moved to different positions, and their lines were changed. These shifts forced players with different styles to work together, which affected the team’s chemistry as a whole.
A great example of how the Ramblers made the chemistry work was when they shutout Indiana State 2-0 on Sept. 26 to win their first conference game of the season. This game was the first time the back four defenders played together.
The injuries also forced some unexpected players to step up to the plate, as was the case of defender Allison Graner. The senior from Omaha, Nebraska, became a crucial component in the Ramblers’ lineup for the last five games.
“After four years of not really being a starter or key player for us, in the last four or five games of her college career, she really stepped up,” said Bimbi. “As a coach you look back, and if you can motivate a player like that in the time of need, it’s a positive feeling going forward.”
The coach said he the team competed well, even with all the injuries it faced. Although, he noted that in the end the team didn’t get the exact results for which it had hoped.
“We didn’t win as many games as we wanted,” Bimbi said. “But the competitive nature of the team is great if you do not look at our record but at our results.”
Freshman forward Katie Grall agreed with Bimbi, looking at the season from an optimistic standpoint.
“As a whole, I think our season went pretty well and that we showed a lot of character as a team in that we went through different adversities,” said Grall. “If you look at our record and if you look at the games we lost, it really doesn’t truly show how good our team was and is.”
Although Loyola’s conference record was not what Bimbi and the players had hoped for, they held their own in the MVC. Every one of Loyola’s losses to conference opponents was in overtime. In addition, every conference game the Ramblers lost was within one goal, including the team’s loss to Drake in the MVC tournament.
Sophomore defender Shelby Koch said that the team’s biggest issue was capitalizing on opportunities.
“We would hold teams to 0-0 and then we would let them score really late in the game when we had a lot of previous opportunities,” said Koch. “I think [the problem] was just [not] putting that last effort in and getting that last touch in the box and scoring.”
One game that stood out to Koch was the game against nationally ranked Marquette University, the defending Big East champion. Loyola held Marquette at a neutral 0-0 until the 81st minute of the game. Senior goalkeeper Monica Gonyo had four big saves throughout the game, but that wasn’t enough to keep the Golden Eagles from a 3-0 victory over the Ramblers.
Bimbi said the team will work on mental toughness, or being able to win long, close games, during the off season.
“Some games, if we were mentally tougher, we would have won those games in overtime instead of losing them,” he said. “We were 1-4-1 in overtime and you never want to lose four games in overtime. If we would have won those four games, the season [would have had] a totally different outlook. I think we need to develop those younger players and get them a little more mentally tough for those situations.”
Although the plan is to have the present freshmen, sophomores and juniors become regular rotation players to replace the nine seniors leaving, Bimbi looks forward to the recruitment process where he can bring in more young players.
For now, the Ramblers get to rest. The team looks to stay healthy, recover from this season and maintain the best possible shape in preparation for its spring season.