Another title is coming to Columbus, this one by way of the Ohio State men’s soccer team, which captured the regular-season Big Ten crown on Wednesday after defeating Michigan 3-1.
The Big Ten championship is the third for the program and first since 2009. Senior midfielder and captain Zach Mason said he knew this year’s team would be special.
“We have a team full of winners, a winning mentality,” Mason said. “I knew something special would happen this year, and I’m glad it came to fruition.”
After a rocky 1-4 start, the Buckeyes finished their regular season with an overall record of 11-5-2 and a conference record of 5-2-1.
OSU coach John Bluem said the team’s turnaround is a testament to its mindset.
“Even when we were 1-4, the guys didn’t lose confidence. They thought that we were a good team and that we had just been unlucky,” Bluem said. “The fact that they didn’t give up and realized that if we could just get it going, we would be fine, and obviously we did get it going.”
The Buckeye seniors, who were honored prior to the game for senior night, were the stars of the night. Mason and midfielder Kyle Culbertson combined for the Scarlet and Gray’s three goals. Mason’s tally was the first of his collegiate career.
“Senior night, a couple seniors getting some goals, getting a win, the Big Ten title, I mean it’s a dream come true,” Mason said.
Culbertson’s first goal of the evening, and his fourth of the season, occurred at the 25th minute of the first half when the ball bounced to him off a Michigan player 12 feet in front of the net. The strike gave OSU a 1-0 lead.
Shortly after, in the 32nd minute of play, a corner kick from senior defender Liam Doyle found Mason on the ground after a deflection, redirecting into the net for his first goal in scarlet and gray.
“I went up for the header and I missed it. I fell down on the ball and it went in. It was worth the wait though,” Mason said. “I just started laughing instantly. It’s ironic that I never scored, and it wasn’t a good goal, but it went in.”
Culbertson got his second tally of the match in the 55th minute following skillful passing by junior forwards Danny Jensen and Yaw Amankwa. The goal swelled the OSU lead to three goals.
“The front four played fantastic, that last goal was just a testament to that,” Culbertson said. “I think everybody touched it, all the front four guys. It was just a great combination play.”
The Buckeye defense did its part as well, keeping Michigan off the scoreboard until the 85th minute of play when senior goaltender Chris Froschauer’s bid for an eighth shutout was snapped by Wolverine senior forward James Murphy.
“The performance speaks for itself, we’ve given up four goals in our past 11 games,” Bluem said. “Our defense has really been doing the job for us, they’ve been fantastic all year long and we’re playing well at the best time of the season to be playing well.”
With the Big Ten regular-season title under its belt, OSU will move on to the Big Ten tournament, where it enters as the top seed.
Culbertson said that despite the Big Ten title, the competition is still intense.
“Every team in this conference can beat anybody out there, so we are definitely getting prepared and making sure that we know the opponent that’s coming in, and making sure we’re ready to work,” Culbertson said.
Bluem said there is still a lot of soccer to be played.
“We’ve got the Big Ten tournament in front of us, and it would be great to win that as well. We know that after that, we’re going to advance and play in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “This isn’t the last game of the season, there’s a lot of games left in front of you, let’s just one win at a time and do what we did tonight and if we do it well enough, we’ll win.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to host their first Big Ten tournament game Sunday against the winner of Michigan State and Penn State. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.