Nine weeks into their season, the first-year class on the Loyola women’s soccer team has stood out as a quickly adaptable and dedicated group, which head coach Barry Bimbi knows is not an easy feat. According to Bimbi, the group has picked up and ran with the dynamic of the team, traits that were adopted from their upperclassmen teammates.
“I think they’ve definitely socially adapted really quickly to the culture as a team,” Bimbi said. “As a group they’re very outgoing. They integrated themselves quickly into the team, which is half the battle as a freshman.”
The first-year class of the 2021 Loyola women’s soccer team arrived in the summer of 2021. Eager to kick off their college careers, the group said they came in with no expectations other than they’d have to fight for every minute they could on the field.
The class consists of six players: goalie Emma Guthrie, defender Emma Irle, middle forward Jaimee Cibulka, middle forward Taylor Harrison, defender Ava Metaj and forward Jada Holloman. This year’s class is one player smaller than last year’s first-year class.
Two of the first-years, Jaimee Cibulka and Taylor Harrison, said they knew they would have to come in, work hard and do whatever was asked of them. They said they had to adjust to their new life in college and playing at a more difficult level than they had ever before.
“I think that has really helped us, in that we didn’t really expect anything,” Cibulka said. “We had to work for everything, and embrace whatever role we have on the team. We know that one isn’t better than the other, we’re just different. Your mindset is the biggest challenge.”
Adopting the outlook and attitude of working for everything is shared between the players. Bimbi noticed how fast the first-years caught onto the work-ethic of the team, and how it has helped them in building relationships with their upperclassmen teammates.
“They work right,” Bimbi said. “They came in and worked for everything that they have and are going to get, that’s just a trait that’s consistent on our squad. If you come in and you work hard, you’re going to be respected by your teammates, and this class is no different.”
Cibulka and Harrison also said they felt it was easy to get comfortable with their teammates, because of how welcoming they have been. The two first-years said the upperclassmen made sure they were included in everything, in or out of practice.
“We definitely spend a lot of time together, we’re always doing everything together, we like to have a tight knit group,” Harrison said. “It’s the same with the whole team — we’re not left out, they include us. We’re definitely very grateful for the upperclassmen family that we have.”
Harrison, who is currently in a starting position on the team, is referred to as the “Dixon Destroyer,” — an homage to her hometown of Dixon, Ill. and her dominance on the field. Bimbi described her as very tough in the tackle — something he said is “somewhat uncommon” for a first-year player. Her toughness and hard work bring a lot of strength to the middle of the field, which is a role she has come to embrace, according to Bimbi.
Cibulka is another player who has played significant minutes this season and even scored her first career goal in her fourth game on Sept.12, has had to learn how to play a little differently in the college game. Bimbi said her main strength coming in was being explosive off of the dribble. However, she had to learn how to put pressure on defense and pass well, which have now become two of her strengths.
There was an adjustment for the first-years from non-conference to conference play. The games are more intense and there is a bigger sense of rivalry for the team.
“I’m excited to keep playing in the conference,” Cibulka said. “We had our first [conference] game last weekend, it’s just a different environment and a different energy.”
The Ramblers won their first conference game 2-1 against Indiana State on Sept. 18. Cibulka and Harrison, the duo of breakout first-years, were the only two first-years to play. Harrison had a starting position and played for 43 minutes, with one shot, while Cibulka subbed-in and played for 24 minutes, making one shot on the goal.
The first-years are looking to follow in the footsteps of the seniors who have previously seen success, some of them having a chance to win a fourth championship ring. Bimbi wants the first-years to be able to have a similar experience to the upperclassmen, and seeing them follow in their footsteps gives Bimbi hope their reign over the conference will continue.
“I want to be on a conference winning team,” Cibulka said. “I think that’s a goal of the team as well, to win another conference championship.”
Seeing how hard they work in practice and listening to the way they talk and interact with each other are a few indicators to Bimbi that the players are focused on winning more championships. He can see the first-year class has a lot of room for growth, but also the exact mindset they need for success.
“Championships don’t just come,” Bimbi said. “You have to work really hard for them.”
The Ramblers are set to play their next conference game on Sept. 25 against the University of Northern Iowa at Loyola Soccer Park. Kick-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN 3.