The seventh-seeded Ohio State women’s soccer team (11-5-3, 5-4-2) is set to head to State College, Pennsylvania, for the semifinal round of the Big Ten tournament. That semifinal matchup is scheduled against the No. 3 seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15-2-2, 7-2-2).
When the Buckeyes and Scarlet Knights met on Oct. 15 in Piscataway, New Jersey, Rutgers triumphed 2-0. However, OSU coach Lori Walker said her team is a much better team now than it was in that game.
“Every game that we’ve played we have not lost the lessons; we’ve improved each time,” Walker said. “We have learned from the things and mistakes we made against Rutgers. We believe that we fixed some of the things that we didn’t do well or execute well in that game.”
For most of the Buckeyes, this is their first time playing in the Big Ten tournament, including junior forward Nichelle Prince.
“To make it to the (semifinals) is really exciting and we just want to keep going,” Prince said.
What must the Buckeyes do to keep going? Both Prince and Walker believe it will be the work of the entire team as a whole to get the job done.
“All 11 players on the field need to really step up and bring our ‘A’ games,” Prince said. “If we don’t all bring our ‘A’ games then we’re not going to be successful. All of us need to bring what we can to the game and be leaders in our own way.”
Walker echoed Prince’s remarks also stressing the importance of teamwork.
“When you get to a championship level you need all your lines,” Walker said. “You need strong goalkeeping, you need excellent defending from your entire team and you need to be sharp on set pieces. And certainly we need to capitalize on the opportunities we’re given in front of the net.”
The Scarlet Knights have given up only six goals the entire season, which poses as a tough challenge to the Buckeyes.
However, Walker said she sees the obstacle as an intriguing challenge rather than a threat.
“I think anytime that you earn the opportunity to be in postseason play…I believe that your team exponentially improves because you’re at your height and the quality of what you’re doing,” Walker said. “I think we also, at this point, see some of Rutgers’ weaknesses and want to try to exploit that as well.”
The game will be played at a neutral site, the home of the No. 1 seed Penn State Nittany Lions. The winner of the match will advance to the championship game, which is set for Sunday afternoon.
Friday’s matchup between OSU and Rutgers is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
The last time OSU was in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament — or made the tournament at all — was in 2012.
The Buckeyes enjoyed a run all the way to the championship game that year, beating Nebraska 1-0 in the quarterfinals and Michigan 2-1 in the semifinals.
Their momentum then continued in the championship game against Illinois, as OSU then-senior forward Tiffany Cameron scored twice in less than five minutes in the second half to lift the Buckeyes to a 2-1 victory and tournament triumph.
Two current Buckeyes started in the championship game as freshmen: goalkeeper Jillian McVicker, who made six saves, and forward Michela Paradiso, who assisted on Cameron’s second goal.
The Buckeyes previously won the Big Ten tournament in 2002 and 2004.
The other side of the bracket
Across from OSU and Rutgers is a meeting between top-seeded Penn State and No. 5 seed Michigan for the other spot in the championship game.
The two teams met in the regular-season finale on Oct. 28, with the Nittany Lions grabbing a 3-1 win at home.
OSU lost to Penn State 2-1 on Oct. 24, while the Buckeyes and Wolverines did not meet during the regular season. However, the rivals did meet for a preseason exhibition game on Aug. 12, with the Wolverines grabbing a 3-1 win in Ann Arbor, Michigan.