The Loyola women’s soccer team (10-6-1) clinched a spot in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament championship game with a 2-1 win over Illinois State University (ISU) Friday night. The Ramblers are now one win away from their first NCAA tournament berth since 2007.
“I know our girls are battle tested,” Loyola head coach Barry Bimbi said after the game. “From the preseason schedule we played and going through conference play, I knew they would stand up to the task.”
The team got off to a fast start in the first half as senior forward Madison Kimball turned in a Lindsey Hardiman pass from six yards out to make it 1-0 in the seventh minute.
“We switched the point of attack really nicely to Lindsey Hardiman and she played a great ball across,” Bimbi said. “We’ve been working a lot on near post and far post runs and Madison made a nice near-post run and the finish was great.”
The Ramblers continued to pressure Illinois State in the first half, culminating with senior forward Jenna Szczesny making it 2-0 in the 31st minute with a header into the bottom left corner.
The second half saw the match become more competitive as the Redbirds clawed back with a goal from forward Mikayla Unger in the 52nd minute to cut the Loyola lead to 2-1. Kimball said this gave Loyola a chance to reorganize and push through adversity to get the win.
“Our coaches say, ‘You always have a game until you get punched in the nose,’” Kimball said. “We wanted to keep possession, obviously … but ISU scored that goal and took all the momentum, and sometimes you’ve gotta sit back and take it and counter when you can, and that’s what we did.”
The Redbirds continued to pressure Loyola’s half as time began to run out and forced three second-half saves out of junior goalkeeper Kate Moran. When the final buzzer sounded, the Ramblers came out on top 2-1 and now need only a victory on Sunday to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in Bimbi’s tenure via the MVC’s automatic bid.
“It’s exciting, for sure, but that’s been the talk from day one with this group,” Bimbi said. “It was always going to be a challenge this year being the preseason favorite and hosting the tournament, so the target’s been on our back all year and these girls keep rising to the challenge.”
Loyola is set to face Drake University Nov 4. at Loyola Soccer Park in the MVC Tournament championship. First kick is set for 1 p.m.