After the fall season was postponed due to COVID-19 safety concerns, the Loyola women’s soccer team is set to get back in action. The team announced its 2021 schedule Jan. 25 with its first game scheduled for less than three weeks away — a big change from the season’s usual start in warmer late summer months.
The Ramblers will only play one non-conference game before Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play begins — an exhibition match at Marquette University scheduled for Feb. 14.
Former Loyola women’s soccer assistant coach Franky Pelaez is now the head coach of the Marquette women’s team, and Loyola head coach Barry Bimbi said the two worked together to set up the exhibition to give the teams some practice before their respective conference seasons.
“We’re both under the same thought process of, ‘Hey, our girls just need to play a game and play minutes,’” Bimbi said in a previous interview. “By the time we play a game that matters February 28, it’ll be 16 months since our girls have played a competitive match.”
In the 2019 season, the Ramblers played 13 non-conference games, including three exhibition games, before Valley play even began. Counting conference play, this made for 17 matchups before the conference tournament, compared to only nine scheduled for this season.
Bimbi said he’s glad the team will be able to play despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With so much uncertainty, we’re excited about our Missouri Valley Conference schedule this spring,” Bimbi said in the press release. “We were able to try some different things with our group during fall and really develop our players with some extended practice time.”
Conference play is set to begin Feb. 28 when the team travels to Missouri State University, followed by a game at home against Drake University March 5. The Ramblers will play four home games this season with the first two — March 5 against Drake and March 21 against Illinois State University — played at a facility in Loves Park, a suburb of Rockford.
The team will round out the season with the final two home games — against Southern Illinois University March 28 and against University of Evansville April 3 — which are scheduled to be played at the Ramblers’ usual home of Loyola Soccer Park.
This year’s MVC Championship is scheduled to be played April 11-17 at campus sites, according to the release.
The Loyola team comes into the 2021 season as back-to-back MVC Champions, holding a perfect 7-0-0 record in 2020 Valley play. The Ramblers also return four All-MVC team selections and the 2020 Freshman of the Year, forward Megan Nemec.