The Ohio State women’s soccer team is preparing to leave for State College, Pennsylvania, where it’s scheduled to take on the fourth-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday.
The Hokies were ranked 14th in the final regular-season National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll and enter Friday’s match 15-3-2 on the year. A huge challenge lies ahead for the Buckeyes, but senior co-captain and midfielder Michela Paradiso is confident in her team’s preparation for this game.
“We have been watching a lot of video, and we’ve gotten a lot of information from the coaches,” Paradiso said. “We’ve been doing different walkthroughs to talk about how they play, which I think really prepared us. We need that when we’re going up against such a dynamic opponent.”
The game is set to take place on a neutral site, which is designed to level the playing field, but OSU coach Lori Walker said she thinks Jeffrey Field presents an advantage for the Buckeyes.
“State College is not a neutral site,” Walker said. “We’ve been there the past six years, at least once a year, so it’s sort of our home away from home. We know the facility, we know what to expect. For Virginia Tech, it’s going to be a newer facility for them and a newer environment.”
Walker said she reminds the team about what they have done throughout the season. She said every game leading up to this point has prepared them for this moment.
“When you reach this point in the season, the objective is to have seen a little bit of everything,” Walker said. “We’re just reminding them of different players that are like the Virginia Tech players and different teams we’ve played this year that are like the way Virginia Tech plays. And if we can do that, we will kind of hit a place inside of them where they feel familiar with what they’re about to see.”
Although 2015 marks the sixth time in the last seven years the Buckeyes have reached postseason play, Paradiso said this year is different, and the excitement around the team is building.
“This is all our first time playing in the second round. A lot of people are just super excited about the opportunity to get to the Sweet 16 like teams have done in the past and to carry on that tradition of Ohio State,” Paradiso said.
For Walker, her focus is not just what happens on the pitch during the game, but also making sure her players maintain a certain mental toughness to keep working throughout the month of November, a time when most teams’ seasons have already come to an end.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Walker said. “Because you’ve got a team that’s been here since June. Our players were willing to sacrifice some of their summer to be here and to position themselves. At the same time, there are some of them that would love to go out and meet some new people and have a little bit of fun. They’ve really had their discipline challenged as far as to stay the course.”
To counteract that desire, Walker said she reminds her team of how much soccer will be missed when it’s over.
“Let’s fight that tendency to want to sleep in and fight that tendency to want to be out late and eat bad food and make new friends,” she said. “And let’s stay together and be a family and keep playing as long as we can.”
When the game kicks off, Paradiso said the team is focused on playing one way, and if the Buckeyes do that, they will be OK with the result.
“We want to play fearless,” Paradiso said. “If we play our best we’ll be able to walk off the field with our head high, so I just want us to bring our mentality and our soccer and then I’ll be proud of whatever happens.”
Walker said with the level of talent the Hokies have, the Scarlet and Gray are going to have to do whatever they can to advance to the Sweet 16.
“Virginia Tech is an excellent team from top to bottom, and for us we just want to execute,” Walker said. “Having a complete game so we can advance. At the same time, it is a survive and advance situation, so this time of year I always say, ‘Ugly is beautiful,’ and you just find a way to win. Competitors find a way to win.”
The Buckeyes and Hokies are set to kick off in State College at 3 p.m.
The winner of Friday’s match will advance to play the winner of the Penn State vs. Boston University game on Sunday. That game is slated to start at 1 p.m.