AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – Ohio State – Consolidation The Watchword in Columbus

Danica Wu

Danica Wu Is Part of An Outstanding Ohio State Midfield in 2012

Preview Index

General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings | Coaching Changes | AWK Awards Shortlist

Big Sky | DI Independents | Great West | SWAC

ACC – Clemson | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Georgetown | Notre Dame | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | La Salle | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan | William & Mary
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | Georgia | LSU | Mississippi State | Missouri | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Diego | San Francisco | St. Mary’s (CA)

Anyone needing evidence that a few games can completely change the complexion of how a season is looked at only has to take the example of Ohio State’s 2011 season into account. A season after winning the league and making a run all the way to the College Cup, the Buckeyes were largely underwhelming for much of 2011. Non-conference results were mostly uninspiring and the club limped into the Big Ten Tournament after finishing a woeful seventh in the league. A first round exit on penalties to Illinois even had many wondering if the Buckeyes would make it back to the NCAA Tournament. They were surely one of the last teams in and one some may have had a bone to pick with after their inclusion in the field.

But OSU would go a long way in redeeming themselves in the Big Dance, first hammering a nationally seeded Tennessee team before shooting down a fancied Milwaukee team in the second round. Even in defeat against Duke, OSU had given the future national finalists more trouble than they likely would have expected. While the few weeks in November didn’t totally make up for what had preceded it, it still helped wash away the taste of mediocrity likely on the lips of many after a less than ideal follow up campaign to 2010.

It had been a big breakthrough for a program seemingly always flattering to deceive and a long time coming for a Buckeye group that has certainly experienced its share of ups and downs under the leadership of head coach Lori Walker over the years. It took nearly a decade for the Buckeyes to even make an NCAA Tournament, helped out by the program’s first major trophy, the 2002 Big Ten Tournament title. OSU would take another significant step forward in 2004 when Swiss midfielder Lara Dickenmann stepped onto campus in Columbus. It was very apparent early on that Dickenmann was a class above most collegiate players and dazzled in her first season in Columbus, helping lead the Buckeyes to another Big Ten Tournament title and a run all the way into the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.

But instead of being the start of something special, Dickenmann’s first season was really the all too short peak of a generation of Ohio State soccer. Despite having the talented Swiss player leading the charge (when she wasn’t on international duty), Ohio State proceeded to miss the next two NCAA Tournaments and then were bounced in the first round in 2007. Life without Dickenmann wasn’t much better as OSU proceeded to miss the Big Dance once again in 2008, leading some to believe that Walker’s time at the club was beginning to run short. The Buckeyes needed a rebound year in the worst way in 2009, and they got it in most part, climbing all the way up to second in the league.

There’d be more frustration in the NCAA Tournament though, as Ohio State were sent packing by upstart Oregon State in the first round despite having home advantage. It marked the third time in five NCAA Tournament appearances that the Buckeyes were eliminated at the very first hurdle, a dismal number for an alleged major program. Walker’s program entered 2010 hoping to finally banish those postseason demons while also seeking to improve on 2009′s title challenge in the Big Ten.

The season didn’t start out in a fashion that inspired much confidence, with OSU dropping a 2-1 decision to Wisconsin-Milwaukee at home before drawing with Marquette, 1-1, on the same weekend. Walker’s team promptly kicked it into gear though, performing well in most of the rest of non-conference play before beginning the league season with six straight wins. They would slow down a little down the stretch, but form was still good enough to grab a piece of the club’s first league title. The Buckeyes would survive a wayward shooting day against St. Francis (PA) and penalties against Dayton in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament before going to Charlottesville and shocking Virginia to advance to the Elite Eight.

Georgetown was waiting back in Columbus, but the Buckeyes proved to be too strong and downed the Hoyas, earning a rather shocking trip to the College Cup for the first time in program history. The Buckeyes would be well beaten in the semi-finals by Notre Dame, but they had certainly left their imprint on the 2010 season with their fantastic season.

Wanting to prove that they were there to stay as contenders, OSU started out the 2011 season well, winning four of five, including a big 2-0 win at West Virginia. An opportunity back in Columbus to notch another big scalp went by the wayside though, as North Carolina hammered Walker’s side, 3-0. The heavy defeat lingered, as the club needed extra time to squeak by Ohio before losing an emotionally charged game to Dayton and then dropping points to Minnesota in the league opener.

OSU seemed to get things together with three wins in four, including a big win over Illinois, but the club put its postseason participation in jeopardy with a shocking stretch of four losses in five, all to teams that wouldn’t make the NCAA Tournament. The club did manage to claim seventh in the league with a win over Indiana, but they didn’t stay in the Big Ten Tournament long, being sent packing by Illinois in the first round after penalties.

In the end, the wins over West Virginia and Illinois were good enough for an at-large bid, and some of the postseason pedigree from last season served OSU well in upsetting the odds twice to reach the Sweet Sixteen. That run was a nice way to salvage a disappointing season, but the Buckeyes certainly don’t appear to be at a point where they can be called consistent Big Ten title contenders. Yet.

Ohio State’s College Cup foray a few seasons ago certainly appears to have borne fruit though, as the Buckeyes are reinforcing their talent base with some strong looking recruiting classes these next few years. They’re needed too, because last season’s club was about as vanilla as it gets when you factor in offensive and defensive stats, with the Buckeyes ending up in the middle of the goals scored and conceded charts in Big Ten play.

Paige Maxwell, who had been such an important source of offense for the club during their magical 2010 run, had by most accounts, a terrible season. She stood at two goals on sixty-eight shots heading into the postseason before showing her true class with goals against Illinois, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Duke in November. Her departure leaves the team short on proven scoring options though. Tiffany Cameron returns after an eight goal campaign, but the next best scorers for the club are Lauren Granberg and Chelsy Swackhamer, who only scored three times last year each.

The club’s defense doesn’t escape the losses either, as club captain Danielle Scoliere, the team’s best defender, departs as well. There’s till a fair amount of talent remaining and coming in for Walker, but getting all that talent playing up to their potential has been a tug of war at times during her coaching career, with more of the same likely in 2012.

Goalkeepers

For much of the 2010 season, Ohio State looked like it had its goalkeeper of the present and future with then freshman Rachel Middleman. The Pennsylvania native had made the starting job her own and had been a Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection come the end of the season. But Middleman found herself on the bench for the club’s big run in the NCAA Tournament, dropped for backup Katie Baumgardner.

Baumgardner proceeded to play very well, making the most of her chance in the NCAA Tournament, including a fine performance against Notre Dame in the College Cup semi-finals that kept the scoreline respectable. She didn’t quite match that form last season but still retained her starting spot for the entire season, finishing out her career nicely after barely playing her first two seasons.

Now a few seasons after her excellent debut, Middleman’s college career is at the crossroads after seeing only reserve duty in a handful of matches last season. There’s still plenty of potential, but it remains to be seen if Middleman’s confidence has recovered after losing her job abruptly as a rookie. She’ll also face some very stern competition from two great rookies from this freshman class.

Touted as one of the best rookie goalkeepers from this year’s recruiting class, Jillian McVicker is a great shot stopper with excellent distribution who won the Golden Glove award at the 2010 USYS ODP National Championship. Walker speaks of McVicker contending for a starting role right away, and she figures to put in a stern challenge for the job. More of a dark horse right off the bat is Californian Carson Dukes, a big and strong presence in goal who has been a star in ECNL play for the Arsenal FC club. Though Dukes won’t be favored to take the job early on, she could still emerge if the others falter. Losing a senior starter is tough, but Middleman does have nearly a season of starting experience under her belt, and the quality from her competition is there as well, meaning this unit shouldn’t dip too much.

Defenders

Ohio State has some work to do in reassembling their defense after losing a pair of last year’s starters. Chief among those losses is Scoliere, who not only was the club’s top defender but also one of its most versatile players, able to play just about anywhere on the pitch. Scoliere often started at full-back, moving up the pitch to a more advanced position if the club needed offense throughout her Buckeyes career. An All-Region Second Team selection, Scoliere started every game for the club as a senior and had a goal and an assist one season after being one of the team’s top reserves in defense.

Adding to the worries is the loss of Liz Sullivan, who started for much of three seasons and likely would’ve made it four had she not struggled through injuries in 2009. Sullivan had been one of the club’s breakout players as a junior with two goals and five assists in the club’s title winning season. She wouldn’t be that prolific offensively last year but was still a defensive stalwart who started every game as a senior. Cutting into the club’s depth is the departure of Colleen Brady, who had been a starting center-back for the club for two seasons but saw her minutes diminish later on in her career, with the Dublin native serving as a reserve central defender and defensive midfielder as an upperclassman.

Likely the one sure thing on the backline this year will be junior center-back Megan Fuller. Despite being undersized for a central defender at just 5’5″, Fuller has turned into a lynchpin at the back for the Buckeyes after just two seasons. A Big Ten All-Freshman Team member in 2010, Fuller continued to excel last season, starting every match as a sophomore. Fuller also made a rather surprising impact offensively, with seven assists to her name, including on all three goals in the win over Tennessee.

Who partners her in defense could be complicated, with two of the more likely candidates also possibilities up front to help fuel the club’s offense. Towering Canadian senior Lauren Granberg had previously scored six goals to lead the team as a rookie before notching four more in 2010. Granberg would move back to defense early in 2011 though and generally split time throughout the season either in defense or up front when the club needed a spark. A pair of goals in a critical win against Illinois proved she still knew where the target was, which might mean a move back into the attack with the club lacking for proven scorers this year. A member of the Canadian CONCACAF U20 World Cup qualifying squad, Granberg is also a contender for a spot on the team for the tournament finals, which would be a big blow for the Buckeyes.

Much of the same applies for another senior, Aly Walker, who also played both in defense and up front, though she tended to be in defense later in the season after starting up front for most of the club’s early contests. Possessor of a nice long throw, Walker seems like a more likely candidate to stay in defense this season considering she’s not as acute as Granberg in front of goal based on past evidence. The club’s not exactly overflowing with returning depth beyond those three. Ashley Gruenbaum was one of the club’s top reserves off the bench last year and be needed in a bigger role out of necessity this season.

Those woes might also mean an immediate need for major minutes from freshman Shelby Soldat, a recruit from the powerhouse Dallas Texans club. Soldat’s been in multiple ODP national camps and could be just what the doctor ordered to help fill out the backline. Though Fuller’s a great centerpiece, the unit lacks depth as a whole and will need a lot to pan out for it to top last season’s middle of the road performance.

Midfielders

Though there are concerns on the back and front lines for the Buckeyes, OSU may still end up having one of the league’s best midfields this season. Losses are minimal, with reserve Madison Beckley the only real departure of note, and she only saw action in a handful of games off the bench last season. Leader of the pack in midfield is Canadian junior Danica Wu, a pitbull in the middle of the park despite being just 5’2″. A former Big Ten All-Freshman Team member, Wu has held down a starting role for both seasons in Columbus and earned All-Region Second Team honors last season after scoring two goals and adding four assists from the midfield for the Buckeyes. The tenacious Wu, like Granberg, is a contender for the Canadian U20 World Cup squad, and her absence for the first month of the season would be a sizable blow for this OSU squad.

Set to provide some much needed senior leadership is Kendyl Reed. One of the club’s first options off the bench for the first two seasons of her career, Reed then slid into the starting lineup last season and made nineteen starts for the club. The Worthington product set a career best for assists with three and will be counted on again in midfield, especially if Wu is missing early.

OSU will also be hoping for more out of another Canadian on the roster, sophomore Kiiri Kuld. A bit of a revelation as a rookie, Kuld won a starting job right away and held onto it all season, starting every match for the Buckeyes as a rookie. Five assists were good enough for third on the team and revealed a world of potential to grow into for the Toronto native. Another big season from Kuld would go a long way in solidifying this midfield, especially if Wu is gone for a month.

Also vying for starting spots will be junior Kristen Niederhaus and sophomore Ellyn Gruber, who combined for fifteen starts a season ago. A big presence in the middle of the park, Niederhaus had started fifteen games in the club’s College Cup season, finishing with two goals and three assists and was expected to be a top starting option last season. The New Jersey native ended up more of a quality reserve though, starting just a handful of games while being used liberally off the bench, though she’ll seek to get back in the starting mix this year. Gruber was one of the club’s top recruits last season and was fairly impressive as a rookie. The Cincinnati product ended up starting nine games and added three assists, including a pair of helpers in the early season win against Radford.

Adding further depth are sophomore Caroline Murray, another highly touted recruit who struggled with injuries last season, and Megan Scoliere, sister of departed defender Danielle, who missed last year through injury and could also end up in defense. Once all the pieces are together, this looks like the strength of the team, but going without Wu for a month in all likelihood is a big blow.

Forwards

Arguably the most concerning unit for Ohio State this season is the frontline, with the club looking short on sources of goals. Maxwell had been expected to be a major threat in front of goal after a ten goal season as a junior that had won her Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Third Team All-America nods as the Buckeyes made a deep NCAA Tournament run. Instead, Maxwell was massively disappointing in front of net for almost all of the regular season, being incredibly wasteful with her shots, though she still finished with eight assists, double the number she had had in the three years prior combined. Still, Maxwell made up for her early struggles with a strong postseason and finished her career fifth in club history in points and sixth in goals.

Also gone is senior Caitlyn Martin, who had been a starter for all of 2010 before settling into a key reserve role these past two seasons, tallying five combined goals and assists for the Buckeyes. Martin will likely be most remembered for the winner against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year.

Canadian senior Tiffany Cameron split time between midfield and forward last season but seems like a near lock to occupy one of the forward spots this season given the loss of Maxwell. A three-year starter going into the new season, Cameron has seen her goals total rise in each season with the club, culminating with the team leading eight goal haul from last season. That total included five game winning goals, goals in three straight league games, and a brace against Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament. Cameron ended up recording at least one point in each of the club’s NCAA Tournament games and will be looking to carry over that form this season as the team’s best scoring option.

Other returning options are limited. Granberg can fill a spot up top but may also be needed in defense and could be gone for the first month of the season at any rate, while Walker hasn’t shown a deft touch in front of goal and may also be needed in defense. Sophomore Chelsy Swackhamer might be in line for increased minutes after scoring three game winning goals off the bench last season, including crucial ones against Michigan and West Virginia. She didn’t make a start though, so it remains to be seen if she can fill a role greater than impact sub.

It might be down to some rookies to help OSU score some goals this season. Hometown product Michela Paradiso looks to be a prime candidate to make a big impact as a rookie. Besides being a Region II ODP mainstay, Paradiso has also shown well at the ECNL level with the Ohio Premier Eagles club and should certainly be no stranger to the coaching staff being a Columbus native. She could push for immediate minutes, as could fellow rookie Marisa Wolf. Wolf, a big and quick forward out of Cincinnati, is another ECNL star, she of the Ohio Elite club. Given how little depth there is behind Cameron, both should get every opportunity to nail down a starting job early.

But given the usual inconsistencies that go with youth, a lot of pressure may be on Cameron to deliver the goods early and often this year. While the Canadian has proven a capable scorer, whether she can be a top option for a contender remains to be seen.

Outlook

In effect, OSU might be in something of a holding pattern this year. The Buckeyes do add a solid class of recruits, but they’re also losing a starting goalkeeper, a pair of reliable defenders, and their best attacking option. Not to mention the fact that they could also be without two more starters for the first month of the season with the U20 World Cup on the horizon. The non-conference slate isn’t exactly a murderer’s row, so OSU will have to fancy their chances of emerging with a solid record and resume ahead of Big Ten play.

What they do in the league is anybody’s guess though. The midfield looks like one of the Big Ten’s best, but breaking in some new faces in defense and up front could be problematic for the club. It’s the attack that could pose the biggest problem, with Cameron really the only tried and tested option and very little proven depth behind her. Depth as a whole looks to be a concern, with Walker likely banking on some major contributions from rookies to help fill gaps.

Buckeyes fans probably won’t be thrilled to hear it, but another season in mid-table likely awaits the 2010 league champions. The Big Ten isn’t exactly overflowing with strong squads this season though, so it might be upper-mid table if everything falls into place in time. Matching last season’s Sweet Sixteen run could be a bit beyond them though.

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