In a historic match, the Loyola women’s soccer team (11-2-2, 7-0-1) became the first team in MVC history to win four straight Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) regular season titles with its 5-0 win against Valparaiso University (10-5-2, 6-1-1) Oct. 28.
Both Loyola and Valparaiso entered the game with a 6-0-1 record in the conference, with the MVC regular season title up for grabs. As close as the teams were in the conference standings, Loyola distinguished itself as the clear leader of the MVC by beating its second-place rival by a five-goal difference.
The game started with immediate pressure from the Ramblers. Valparaiso played a heavily defensive game for the majority of the first half, struggling to keep Loyola off their half of the field.
Valparaiso’s defense was able to contain Loyola’s explosive offense until the 26th minute, when first-year midfielder Taylor Harrison and sophomore defender Alaina Abel combined for a beautiful double-assist, setting up graduate forward Katharine Stephens to fire for the first goal of the match.
In the 32nd minute of the game, a through ball sent into the box by Harrison was battled for and won by junior forward Megan Nemec, who found the end of the net for Loyola’s second and final goal of the half.
With the second goal of the game, Nemec set her career high for goals in a season with seven. However, she said her focus remains in helping her team in the postseason.
“It feels great,” Nemec said. “As long as we got the win and four-peat that’s what matters, but it’s good to get another goal, another tally on my sheet.”
It was absolute dominance on offense and defense for the Ramblers in the first half. Loyola’s offense caught fire, attempting 13 shots and scoring two goals, while holding the visitors to zero shots in the half.
The second half started and the Ramblers kept up their momentum — Loyola’s high pressure kept Valparaiso inside their own half of the field, unable to make any offensive contests. In the 63rd minute of the game, senior midfielder Bailey Faulkner struck the ball from 15 yards through traffic and into the goal, assisted by graduate defender Jenna Ross.
Sophomore midfielder Madelaine Barone was next in line — a cross from graduate midfielder Kailee Coonan was met by a one-touch strike by Barone to put the Ramblers up by four in the 77th minute.
The fifth and final goal of the match came from a long pass by graduate midfielder Giulia Rabbito to junior defender Megan Demski, who chased the ball down and, firing the ball towards the far post, bounced it in to close the game.
Throughout the entire contest, the Ramblers were able to tally five goals, 26 shots and 12 corner kicks while Valparaiso was held to zero in all respective categories.
By taking first place in the MVC regular season, the Ramblers were able to clinch a bye week and secure a spot in the conference tournament semi-final. Heading into the postseason — known territory for Loyola’s veteran players — Loyola head coach Barry Bimbi acknowledged the importance of experience.
“In the tournament for sure,” Bimbi said when asked about the value of experience for his team. “You know, being comfortable with the big lights on. That’s what tonight was about. Our group has been there, they were just calm in those moments, they looked poised in front of the goal and really comfortable.”
The Ramblers are set to begin postseason play Nov. 5 at Loyola Soccer Park, hosting the winner of the game between 4-seed University of Northern Iowa and 5-seed Drake University. The game is set to be broadcast on ESPN+.