The Loyola women’s soccer team’s season (13-6-0, 4-3-0) was successful. The team currently has the second best scoring offense in Division I soccer — averaging 3.28 goals a game. The Ramblers went into last season’s Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament as the No. 6 seed with a losing record. This year, they’re the No. 3 seed with a winning record.
The players hoped for a bye in the first round of the tournament, but fell to Drake University 1-0 Oct. 26, making them the third seed in the tournament. In the first round of the tournament Oct. 29, Loyola defeated Valparaiso 2-1 at Loyola Soccer Park to advance to the MVC semifinals.
Head coach Barry Bimbi said making the semifinals is essential for the team.
“Being a young team [going to the semifinals is] really important going forward,” Bimbi said. “For this group to get to that semifinal round is an indication of where the program is going.”
Unlike past seasons, the team only started two seniors this year — goalkeeper Maddie Ford and forward Katie Grall. Bimbi said this untraditional standard of play definitely benefited the team.
“We are the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference to go to the semifinal round three years in a row,” Bimbi said. “It’s a huge accomplishment for [the team], but it’s all about that experience.”
Bimbi said he wants the team to focus on playing one game at a time rather than thinking too far ahead. The next game — the semifinal — will be played against Missouri State University Nov. 3, whom the Ramblers beat 5-0 during conference play.
“[Missouri State has] been on quite a roll since they played us last,” Bimbi said. “We have to see what they are doing differently and prepare for them.”
If the team advances to the final, they will be taking on either the University of Northern Iowa or Drake University. Bimbi said while both teams are tough opponents, he’s not worried about facing them.
“No matter who we are going to possibly face in the final, if we are lucky enough to get that far, [they] will definitely have our full attention,” Bimbi said.
In the game against Valparaiso, two Ramblers earned yellow cards. Senior forward Emily Lange earned one and sophomore midfielder Sienna Cruz earned two, which results in a suspension from the semifinal game, meaning Cruz won’t play against Missouri State.
Junior forward Jenna Szczesny said she feels that while the loss of Cruz will be an obstacle, the team has plenty of players who can fill in.
“[Cruz is] a key part of our team, but we have a very deep bench so I think that someone will be able to step up,” Szczesny said.
The coaching staff isn’t worried about the loss, according to Bimbi. He said the players have been training hard and filling the hole won’t be a problem.
“We tell the girls every year, you may not be playing a lot, you may not be playing at all,” Bimbi said. “They never know when their number is going to be called.”
Szczesny said the physicality takes a step up in games that get closer to the finals. It’s a battle between which team wants it more, and Szczesny said she thrives off of it.
“As with any quarter final game, it’s going to be pretty tough and physical,” Szczesny said. “I’m a physical player myself, so in a way it helps me.”
Senior goalkeeper Maddie Ford said she wasn’t ready for her final collegiate soccer career to be over, so the win against Valparaiso meant a lot to her. She said she’s hoping for a win against Missouri State so the team can go to the finals.
“[Winning the MVC tournament] would be unreal,” Ford said. “It would be everything that I’ve worked for in the last four years to mean something.”
Ford said working as a team is crucial to winning and while the stress of the tournament weighs down on the team, it brings the players together.
“We all know each person’s effort affects the others,” Ford said. “We are all in this together so if we don’t show up, we won’t win.”
Szczesny said the team is hoping to use the momentum from its recent victory to beat Missouri State.
“We have no other choice but to win,” Szczesny said. “We have to use the excitement from this win to pick up the team and play even harder.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to take on Missouri State in the MVC semifinal Nov. 3 in Springfield, Missouri.