The Loyola women’s soccer team was picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) preseason coaches poll. The team didn’t seem to notice, as it currently sits on top of the MVC standings with a 10-3 overall record and a 3-0 record in the conference.
The Ramblers’ success this season is due to the offense scoring goals at a blistering pace. The team leads the MVC in goals scored with 47; the next closest team is University of Northern Iowa with 25. The team also leads the MVC in assists with 38 and shots taken with 221.
The offensive outburst isn’t completely out of the blue, according to head coach Barry Bimbi; it’s the culmination of the work the team has done since the end of last season when the team wasn’t happy with its 5-11-3 record.
“We had not a great year last year, we didn’t score a ton of goals. So we really worked on our system of play and player development … by the end of the spring the girls were really confident in how we were playing,” Bimbi said.
The most dramatic change to the team since last year is a new formation. In the past, the team has played a 4-3-3 lineup, with four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards. This season the team has switched to a 4-4-2 lineup with four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards. The new formation has helped the offense by allowing the forwards — Jenna Szczesny and Katie Grall — to use their strength and speed the best they can.
“The two forwards get more one-on-one matchups against the team’s center backs,” Bimbi said. “They’re both very strong, athletic girls and it gives us more stability in the midfield.”
In any sport, the mark of a good team is it can find a way to win no matter the situation. The team has done that this season — winning games by whatever means necessary. The Ramblers blew out teams, winning seven games by three or more goals, including a 9-0 win against Chicago State University. But the team has also been able to win nail biters, such as its 3-2 win against the University of Evansville when all five goals — including senior Emily Lange’s game-winner with less than three minutes remaining — were scored in the last 20 minutes of play.
“[Winning in different ways] really shows the personality of the team,” Lange, a Western Springs native, said. “We’re always going to keep going to the last minute and we’re not going to let down after a goal is scored, like against Evansville. It also shows that even if we get three in the back of the net, we’re going to keep pushing forward to get as many as we can.”
The team is just three games into its MVC schedule, but it used its nonconference games to build confidence against teams from larger conferences. The Ramblers played against Oklahoma State University, a Big-12 team; University of Iowa, a Big-10 team and DePaul University, a Big East team.
The Ramblers lost 2-0 to Oklahoma State on Aug. 18 — which has only lost once all season — but according to Bimbi, the game gave the team a jolt of confidence that they could compete against stronger teams. The Ramblers beat Iowa 3-0, whose record is currently 5-5-1, and they beat a 5-6-1 DePaul 2-0.
“We set up the nonconference schedule to test us. We opened up at Oklahoma State, playing a Big-12 team. We [lost] the game 2-0, but we learned a lot about our team that day,” Bimbi said. “We were playing in 95 degree heat with 110 percent humidity and they just fought and they battled. We were able to keep the ball and possess. They really built confidence … and from that day on, no one could shut us down.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to use their high-powered offense against Valparaiso University on Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at Loyola Soccer Park.