After a 5-0 win over Southern Illinois University March 28, the Loyola women’s soccer team (6-1-1) had more reason to celebrate than just a conference matchup victory — the Ramblers secured their third consecutive regular season Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) title.
Although the season had been postponed from its normal period in the fall, that didn’t stop the Loyola squad from dominating the conference as they have for the past few years. The Ramblers will begin the competition for their third consecutive MVC Championship when they play Illinois State University in the semifinals April 14.
Senior midfielder Lindsey Hardiman said the excitement is still there even though they’ve won the regular season multiple times.
“It’s just kind of a tribute to all the hard work that we’ve gone through throughout all of the 400 days before we even got to play at [Loyola Soccer Park] again,” Hardiman said.
Sophomore midfielder Megan Nemec said she agreed and that even though it has been a long time since they had played games due to COVID-19, the third straight title is a testament to the team’s work ethic. Head coach Barry Bimbi also said protecting their COVID bubble has been important with the weather being nicer, considering the team has been COVID-free the whole season.
“They really deserve a lot of credit for that,” Bimbi said. “Teams have been shut down … but these girls kind of put the priority in ‘Let’s protect our bubble because we have bigger things to achieve.’”
Bimbi said the competitiveness and high-level of playing he sees in this team are similar to the teams from the past.
“The philosophy and execution really hasn’t changed,” Bimbi said. “But I’ve said it from day one the difference between this year’s team and the 2019 team is just the depth that we had in 2019.”
Since the Ramblers’ offseason was canceled last spring and they didn’t have games in the fall, Bimbi said this year was a bit difficult since new players didn’t have as many non-conference games to adjust. He said one of the team’s biggest challenges has been keeping their focus through the spring, especially since this is the time of year where they wouldn’t normally be playing.
However, he credits the starting lineup this year for their success and hard work that brought them to the regular season title.
Hardiman said the upperclassmen have been really good this year, especially because they all know what it means to go through and win both regular season and conference titles.
“That experience we have on the field, I think [it’s] a big thing,” Hardiman said. “And the expectation that it’s no longer just okay to get there … or just to win a conference. We’re like, ‘That’s going to happen, but that’s not our only goals, our goals are farther than that.”
The Ramblers returned 12 upperclassmen this year, including multiple members of previous All-MVC Teams — eight Loyola players earned All-MVC honors in 2019 alone.
Nemec said the mentality of success and working hard has stayed the same since last year, and now they get to incorporate the new members.
“Just like winning, coming to practice every day, working hard, building off what we have been doing,” Nemec said. “I think that’s something that’s been instilled in this program.”
Heading into the upcoming MVC Tournament, Bimbi said he wants to keep up the sharpness and high level of play the team has exhibited throughout the season. He said he wants to “put the doubt” into the other teams’ minds and mess up their game plans.
“One of the things we kind of stressed to the girls this year [is] every time we take the field, it’s everyone’s biggest game,” Bimbi said. “We have to bring our best game every single time to match the intensity that the other team is going to come with.”
Hardiman said the team also took advantage of the week before the tournament. While other teams may have had games left to play, the Ramblers were done with their regular season and had 11 days between their last game and their semifinal matchup. Nemec said the team will need to stay focused and keep working hard in practice.
As a senior, Hardiman said she’s enjoyed the experience of having so many wins for her team throughout her collegiate career. She said she thinks the team has gotten better every year and she’s liked seeing how they’ve progressed.
“Every single person on our team has busted their butt to get there, and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” she said. “[I’m] just taking in the last experiences that I get as a Loyola Rambler on the team.”
The Ramblers are set to take on Illinois State University at Loyola Soccer Park in the semifinals of the MVC Tournament April 14. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.