The match-ups are set and the days are numbered until the women’s soccer Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The Ramblers stand out with their 10-game win streak, but all the top seeds are still fine-tuning their game before the Nov. 8-10 tournament.
Loyola University Chicago
The Loyola women’s soccer team is gearing up for its second consecutive tournament as regular season champion. However, head coach Barry Bimbi said the Ramblers’ preparation for this tournament isn’t much different from the past.
The Ramblers won their first MVC Tournament last season and went to the NCAA Tournament, where they lost 1-0 to eventual champion Florida State University. Bimbi said the team is preparing the same way as last year, but now with more confidence after seeing what it accomplished last season.
Senior defender Madison Laudeman, 21, said the depth of the Loyola side this year will make the team stand out in the MVC. She also said last year’s championship proved the team can succeed after falling behind in the beginning.
Last year, the Ramblers won the MVC Tournament championship game over Drake University 3-2. After being down 2-1 going into the second half, current sophomore midfielder Abby Swanson and current junior forward Katharine Stephens scored to put Loyola ahead for the win.
Bimbi said going into this year, he knew the team would be adjusting to losing some main goal-scorers. One graduate, forward Jenna Szczesny, scored 11 goals in 2018 and was then drafted by the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women’s Soccer League Draft. Another graduate, defender Madison Kimball, tallied nine goals in 2018.
Despite losing top scorers, Bimbi expected the Ramblers to be different, but better, this year.
“We have six or seven girls that can score five or six goals,” Bimbi said. “What we kind of envisioned the team to be, it’s coming true.”
There’s one thing Bimbi said the team will need to improve on before the tournament: corner kicks. Bimbi said with games becoming more intense, it’s important the Ramblers master them since they can be direct opportunities for a goal.
“They’re important this time of year,” Bimbi said. “That would be an area of focus for us: how do we get a little more efficient scoring off of set pieces … especially corner kicks.”
First-year goalkeeper Grace Droessler said her focus during the tournament will be keeping the team together.
“As a goalkeeper, [what’s] often overlooked is setting the pace and the mentality of the game,” the communications major said. “That’s going to be really important … staying stable in the back and building up from there.”
Droessler, 18, has been in goal for the entirety of Loyola’s win streak and has only let in more than one goal on three occasions.
Bimbi said he hopes Droessler and Laudeman will keep playing well for the Ramblers, along with senior midfielder Aleksa Tataryn.
Tataryn scored seven goals this season and was named MVC Offensive Player of the Week Oct. 28. However, Bimbi said a lot of her successes don’t appear in the box scores.
“It seems she’s always the one passing the ball to the person who passes the ball for the goal, but it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” Bimbi said. “She’s really creating a lot of really good goal-scoring opportunities.”
Illinois State University
Illinois State University head coach Brad Silvey said his team is focusing on getting back to scoring multiple goals per game. The No. 2 seed team has only scored one goal per game in five of its last six games, but scored multiple for most earlier games.
“Our defense has stepped up incredibly well, our goalkeeping has been phenomenal,” Silvey said. “We’re still winning and earning some positive results, but I think we’d like to be a little sharper in front of our opponents.”
Silvey said the Redbirds have been able to adapt well to playing different opponents, which he thinks will be their biggest strength. Illinois State finished the regular season with a 1-0 win over Drake University Nov. 1 and a 6-1 conference record.
Drake University advanced to the semifinals of the MVC tournament with a 1-0 win over Valparaiso University Nov. 4. Head coach Lindsey Horner said the Bulldogs had a rocky start to their season, losing their first four regular season games.
However, she said they started to pick up more wins as the upperclassmen became stronger leaders on the pitch. She said redshirt senior midfielder Vanessa Kavan, senior midfielder Cassie Rohan and junior forward Hannah Bormann have stood out so far.
“They want to get on the ball and make something happen,” Horner said. “Those are three that … instead of letting the game come to them, just go and find ways to put their stamp on the game.”
The Ramblers are set to take on Drake University in Springfield, Missouri. Nov. 8. Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.