Coming off a Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years, the Loyola women’s soccer team is hoping to make it happen again.
The Ramblers topped the preseason poll last season and didn’t disappoint in the MVC Tournament, beating Illinois State University and Drake University last November to win their first MVC title in program history. Loyola is the preseason favorite for the second year in a row, but Head Coach Barry Bimbi said he isn’t paying it much mind.
“Our goals and expectations for the season were set before the poll came out,” Bimbi said. “[They] weren’t dependent on the preseason poll.”
This year, Bimbi said the team has taken its objectives a step further from last year, shifting its focus from simply making the NCAA Tournament to winning a game during the tournament. Last year, the Ramblers fell to Florida State University in the first round.
Now that Jenna Szczesny and Madison Kimball graduated, the Ramblers are without two of their top players from last season. Szczesny was the first player in the program’s history to be MVC Player of the Year, and Kimball finished with a career high of nine goals, ranking her third in goals in the MVC.
This year’s team brings in a large group of first-years along with forward Simone Wark, a graduate student coming from the University of South Carolina.
“We knew from when we first signed this class it was going to add depth to the roster, and it’s really shown that in preseason,” Bimbi said. “The training sessions are a little crisper, they’re more competitive.”
With so many new faces coming in, sophomore midfielder Abby Swanson said there was a transition period while new players adjusted to the team. However, she said having so many new players also offers them the chance to lean on each other for guidance, helping to integrate into the team.
It hasn’t all been good news for the Ramblers lately, though. Senior goalkeeper Kate Moran, last season’s main goalkeeper, suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season. Bimbi said although it’s a “heartbreaking” way for her to end her career at Loyola, the team is prepared for the season since there are three goalkeepers still in good health — junior Radhika Patel, sophomore Maddie Hausmann and first-year Grace Droessler. There have only been five game appearances between the three of them, and only two last season.
“We might kind of juggle the minutes early in the season to see who kind of settles in and who the team has confidence in,” Bimbi said. “But we definitely have three confident backups in Kate’s absence.”
When it comes to the rest of the veteran team members, Bimbi said the returning players who stand out include Swanson, the 2018 MVC Freshman of the Year, and senior defender Madison Laudeman, the 2018 MVC Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Laudeman said there’s more depth on the team now due to the newcomers and the players are all determined to achieve their goals for the year.
“I think coming off of last year we all see how much we are capable of,” Laudeman said. “I think we all want to prove to ourselves that we can accomplish what we set our mind to this year.”
Loyola played its first exhibition game at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Aug. 11 and won 4-0. The Ramblers play one more exhibition before taking on the University of Illinois for their first regular season game.
Bimbi said the Ramblers need to focus on what more they can accomplish this year, not just their successes from last year. He said so far in training, the players have done well to push each other to keep being better.
Swanson said even though they have more confidence this season as the current champions, they are still working just as hard to come out on top.
“I think [last year’s result] adds confidence to what we’re doing, but also, we realize we have a new group,” Swanson said. “With that comes new possibilities and opportunities to go even farther this year.”
The team is set to open its season against University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana Aug. 22. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.