In the preseason, Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) coaches tabbed the Loyola women’s soccer team (1-6-2) to be this year’s MVC runner-up to Drake University and even gave the Ramblers one of seven first-place votes. But a lackluster start to the season is paving an unfamiliar path for women’s soccer in what has turned into one of the worst starts in program history.
Loyola has continuously struggled to be productive on offense. After wrapping up the first half of their schedule winless, the Ramblers earned their first tally in the “W” column against California Polytechnic State University on Sept. 18.
Last season, the MVC tournament No. 5 seeded Ramblers found their way to the conference championship game after upsetting No. 1 Drake University. Loyola and the No. 2 University of Evansville faced off in the championship game and held one another scoreless through double overtime. The Purple Aces came out victorious in penalty kicks, 5-3.
Loyola was pegged for success this season, but the team’s inability to score haunts it for yet another year. Last season, the Ramblers scored only 17 goals in 21 games. This season, Loyola has scored six goals — compared to its opponents’ 16 goals — in nine games. The Ramblers lost offensive powerhouse Jessica Bean, who scored three goals last season, to graduation.
Head coach Barry Bimbi said the lack of offensive productivity is a result of “exhaustion and frustration.”
“I think, right now, that the girls feel the pressure of not scoring,” said Bimbi. “We’re creating a lot of quality chances, but every game that you’re not scoring goals, the pressure mounts. … So, there’s some more anxiety than there would be if the goals were going in a little more frequently.”
Junior forward Katie Grall scored two goals off 11 shots in Loyola’s nine games so far this year. Junior midfielder Avalon Senn-Raemont has been more efficient, scoring one goal off four shots in six games, but Bimbi has limited her play.
Sophomore midfielder Madison Kimball said the team’s scoring drought has been frustrating.
“We’ve been playing good soccer against very tough opponents,” said Kimball. “We need to work on playing our game and knowing that we’re a very good team when we play with the ball … Every game, we’re determined to go out there and play our best, and it’s frustrating when the results aren’t showing everything that we’re putting in.”
An unproductive offense adds pressure to the defense. The Ramblers’ defense has proven to be a strong asset, but it still has its faults. Junior goalkeeper Maddie Ford and sophomore goalkeeper Cassidy Lentz have each made six appearances this season. Ford, who has played 50 minutes less than Lentz, has a goals against average of .89 and a save average of .81, saving 17 shots on the season. Lentz, who has less collegiate experience, has a 2.36 goals against average and .739 save average with 34 saves on the season.
For now, Bimbi said the team is focused on getting over its slump. While the Ramblers still have two games before conference play — including one big game against Red Line rival and Big East Conference foe DePaul University — the Ramblers are preparing for the final half of their season.
“Obviously, everyone wants to win games and have a winning record, but I believe in challenging the girls,” Bimbi said. “That’s why we have a tough schedule … [It gives] them different looks against different styles of teams [and] different systems of play. … I think we played well enough in a couple of the games.”
The Ramblers will wrap up non-conference play this week against the Blue Demons at 3 p.m. on Sept. 21 and hosting Chicago State University at 7 p.m. on Sept. 23.