Fresh off a pair of wins over top-20 opponents, the Ohio State men’s soccer team is set to take on an unranked foe.
The Buckeyes (4-3-3, 2-1-0) shook off a three-game losing streak to defeat then-No. 5 Louisville on the road Sept. 30 before returning home to top then-No. 17 Michigan State on Saturday.
“We just never stopped fighting,” senior midfielder Yianni Sarris said. “Our confidence was a little down after three straight losses, but we came back on top and got two huge wins.”
Sarris scored a goal in each of the two wins, including the lone goal against Louisville. The senior was named OSU Athlete of the Week in recognition of his performance.
OSU is now set to take its newfound confidence to Rochester, Mich., to take on the Oakland Grizzlies (2-5-1) on Wednesday night.
Oakland began the regular season with five straight losses. However, it has turned it on since beginning Horizon League play, going 2-0-1 in its last three.
“They’re a team that’s starting to gain some belief and gain some momentum right now,” OSU coach John Bluem said. “They’re looking to get a big win and we’re the next big team coming to town.”
Bluem said he has made it clear since the Michigan State game ended that his team shouldn’t overlook Oakland and fall into a trap of sleepwalking through what could be seen as an easy win.
“We talked about it right after the game the other night when we got in the huddle, we talked about how this is a tricky game coming up,” Bluem said. “We’ll try to make them realize that this is a pretty good team you’re up against.”
Bluem stressed that if the team hopes to receive an NCAA Tournament bid, it cannot let down against teams like Oakland, regardless of whether OSU is able to defeat ranked opponents.
Sarris said he understands the importance of not overlooking Oakland or any other opponent on the schedule.
“For what we know right now, it’s our biggest game of the season,” Sarris said. “We can’t take any opponent lightly, so we’re going to go out there and get the ‘W.’”
Bluem echoed his senior’s attitude with the mantra he stresses to the team.
“The important thing for this team to realize is, one game at a time,” Bluem said. “The next most important game of the season is Wednesday night, and after that, the next most important game of the season is the next one.
“We’re not just going to show up and people are going to quit, we need to be at our very best to win games,” Bluem continued. “And if we do that, there’s a chance this team is going to make the NCAA Tournament this year.”
Last week’s win in Louisville, Ky., ended a long winless streak in non-neutral away matches dating back to 2012, a streak of 13 games.
“Playing on the road is difficult compared to playing at home because you’re used to playing at home, you’re comfortable playing here,” junior defender Liam Doyle said. “Going into the unknown makes it really tough.”
OSU has faced Oakland in three of the last four seasons, with the Buckeyes defeating the Grizzlies in each of the three meetings. Last season OSU blew out Oakland, 4-0, in Columbus.
Doyle said the Buckeyes’ recent success has the entire team confident moving forward.
“I think right now we’re as good as we’ve been all year,” he said. “Everyone’s playing well, the confidence is high, so I think we’re the best we’ve been this season.”
After the game at Oakland, OSU is set to return home to take on No. 10 Indiana on Sunday. That game is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.