The Loyola women’s soccer team (5-11-2, 2-4-0) advanced to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) semifinals after defeating the University of Northern Iowa 1-0 in the quarterfinal round on Oct. 30. This was Loyola’s first victory on the road against Northern Iowa in program history.
After the Ramblers’ loss against Drake University on Oct. 27, head coach Barry Bimbi said the team had to improve its comfort level with handling the ball and switching the point of attack. Following the Ramblers’ win against UNI on Oct. 30, Bimbi outlined how the team improved its play.
“We won a lot of individual battles all around the field, which led to some good possession and turnovers in their end, and that is how we created the goal,” said Bimbi.
Bimbi said the experience of the team’s older members would be important for making noise in the conference tournament. After a rough end to the regular season, with the Ramblers losing four games in a row, Bimbi remained confident in his veterans’ leadership.
“Our returning players know how exciting the conference tournament is and helped put the last two weeks behind us, and [they] educated the younger players about what it takes to win this time of the year,” said Bimbi.
Loyola is two victories away from winning its first conference tournament in nine years. The last time the Ramblers won a conference championship was in 2007, when Loyola defeated the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and was still part of the Horizon League. Since then, the Ramblers have made their conference championship twice, losing in 2008 (Horizon League) and 2015 (MVC).
The first-round tournament win is not what you’d expect if you looked at Loyola’s regular season on paper. The Ramblers entered to the playoffs as the sixth seed. During regular season conference play, the Ramblers recorded a 2-4-0 record, scoring six goals but allowing 10. They lost to Northern Iowa in the regular season, which made the tournament game against the Panthers a matter of revenge.
This season the Ramblers only scored six points in conference play — in which teams earn three points for a win, one for a tie and no points for a loss — which is the lowest total for Loyola since it joined the MVC in 2013. This season also marks the first time in the Ramblers’ four years in the MVC that they have been outscored by their opponents, scoring six goals and conceding 10. It is the second time the Ramblers made the tournament as the last seed; the Ramblers also qualified for sixth place in 2014.
Loyola’s only appearance in the MVC conference semifinals was last year, when the team defeated Drake University but later lost in the championship game against the University of Evansville. The upcoming semifinal game against Evansville will be the Ramblers’ second chance for revenge. Their game is scheduled for Nov. 4 at 3:36p.m. The other MVC semifinal game is between Illinois State University and Indiana State University, which is also scheduled to take place on Nov. 4.