After eight players brought home All-MVC honors Nov. 4 — including junior midfielder Megan Nemec repeating as Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Year and senior midfielder Abby Swanson repeating as Defensive Player of the Year — the Loyola women’s soccer team (12-2-2, 7-0-1) won over the Drake University Bulldogs 4-1 Nov. 5 at Loyola Soccer Park in the MVC Tournament semifinals.
Loyola came into the match off a bye week after securing the top seed in the tournament, making it the only team in MVC history to win four consecutive regular season titles. This regular season finish also meant the team would host this year’s tournament.
The Ramblers started off hot when junior midfielder Amanda Cassidy scored her first goal of the season off an assist from graduate forward Katharine Stephens in the fourth minute. Loyola kept the pressure on as first-year midfielder Taylor Harrison went for a shot in the sixth minute.
The home team kept possession strong as Nemec was able to make another shot in the 11th minute. However, she found success only eight minutes later when she sent the ball flying in for Loyola’s second goal.
Although Drake managed to secure possession and move play into Loyola’s half on occasion, the Ramblers kept the Bulldogs on the defense for the majority of the half.
Loyola managed to tally one more point before the half. After the Ramblers failed to send the ball in on a momentarily empty net, sophomore midfielder Madeleine Barone secured the third goal for Loyola immediately after, giving the top-seeded team a 3-0 lead heading into halftime. The Ramblers outshot the Bulldogs nine to two in the first half.
Cassidy said being able to make those quick goals in the first half helped take the pressure off the team a bit.
“Being the higher seed is definitely scary,” Cassidy said. “But I think getting a couple goals in really put the adrenaline down. A few of us were really tired in the first ten minutes because we were going really, really fast, but once we got a couple in I think we settled down the game and it really made our mindset right.”
Loyola head coach Barry Bimbi — who’s in his 11th season at the helm of the Ramblers and the winningest coach in program history — said getting teams out of their game plans and scoring early has been a common theme throughout the conference season. However, he said getting on the board early helped them all take a “nice deep breath.”
The second half started off a bit more back and forth until senior forward Bailey Faulkner set up Harrison to score her fifth goal of the season, sending the Ramblers ahead 4-0. First-year midfielder Jaimee Cibulka made a shot straight to the net in the 67th minute, but it was saved with a jump from Drake goalkeeper Kelsie Stone.
The Bulldogs were able to force possession a bit more in the second half than the first, which led to a goal from Drake’s Libby Helverson in the 78th minute to put the visitors on the board. However, Loyola managed to hold the Bulldogs scoreless for the remainder of the match and finish with a 4-1 victory.
Bimbi said he “couldn’t be happier” with the way his team played in the match.
“We talked a lot about being true to ourselves, don’t get caught up in the emotion of tournament play,” he said. “We have a ton of experience in this situation and I think it showed tonight.”
The Ramblers managed to secure a 4-1 victory against Drake during the regular season — the same score as in the semifinal match. Cassidy said the team was prepared for a tougher matchup considering losing a tournament game would mean going home.
“Obviously tournament play is a lot harder … so we knew it was going to be a really intense game” Cassidy said. “But we just played who we are and kept to who we are, and that’s how we won.”
Loyola will attempt to win the “four-peat” through a fourth consecutive MVC Championship title when it hosts sixth-seeded University of Evansville Nov. 7 at Loyola Soccer Park. Evansville secured its spot in the championship match after winning over second-seeded Valparaiso University 2-1 Nov. 5.
Kick-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. and the game is set to be broadcast on ESPN+.