By Nathan DiCamillo
At halftime they “still had hope” senior captain Elisabeth Wahl said.
Olivet’s Women’s soccer team was tied 2-2 against non-conference Siena Heights University (Mich.). Many of their seniors were out. The team, along with head coach Bill Bahr, began to encourage each other.
But the tigers lost 5-2 to the non-conference team. This loss became a “turning point” in their season. After Siena Heights, the tigers achieved a 15 game winning streak. For the first time in tiger history, the team grabbed both the regular season title and went undefeated in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference becoming the conference tournament champions.
“The feeling of losing by that many goals was a terrible feeling and we did not want to feel that way again,” Wahl said. “We were a young team and after that game we really came together and connected. We did have several injuries in the beginning of the season.”
One of those injured was starter and captain, Senior Katie Smith.
“When Katie Smith got back into her game, the season really did turn around in so many ways,” Wahl said. “She was a true blessing this year on and off of the field.”
After their winning streak, the tigers eventually fell, 1-0, in the first round of the national tournament against Hasting College (Neb.).
“The last two years we’ve gone [to nationals] and haven’t played our best games,” Bahr said. “The trick is trying to get the team to peek at the right time. The last two years we peeked early”
Bahr described Trinity International University (Ill.) as Olivet’s toughest rival. Trinity’s head men and women’s soccer coach, Patrick Gilliam, described Olivet as a team that was strong up and the middle.
“Soccer is really about the final third. A lot of us can get out of the back, a lot of us can keep the ball in the midfield, but we don’t get points for possession percentage or number of passes completed. We have to break a team down, get in from behind and then get a scoring chance,” Gilliam said. “I felt like while we had a fair amount of the ball the first time, they were tough to break down.”
Despite the early loss and injuries sustained, the tigers gained valuable experience as Freshman Tess Marcordes stepped into a leadership role as a sweeper—a roaming defensive position on a soccer team that can direct other players and make up for mistakes from the back defenders.
“I’m able to look ahead and see where the other teams placed,” Marcordes said. “I have to figure out how they position themselves and how to defend it. It’s deductive reasoning.”
Soccer is really about the final third… we don’t get points for possession percentage or number of passes completed. We have to break a team down, get in from behind and then get a scoring chance.
Junior Michelle Ditchfield also gained experience as she moved from a middle to outside midfielder position.
With a 30 player team and a 20 player traveling squad, the team was larger than usual and made more substitutions because of multiple injuries including senior team captain Katie Smith. The team will have a returning senior class of seven players next season.
“One of the cool things about our conference season: we were beating teams 3-0, 4-0, 4-1, 9-1 … for most of the season and everyone played,” Bahr said. “There was not a girl on our team that didn’t get any minutes.”
As the freshman became integrated into the team, so did new assistant coaches, Meghan Traynor and Brandon Eyelander. Bahr has an expertise in coaching midfielders, while Traynor focuses on defense along with assistant coach Joshua Macharia, and Eyelander concetrates on forwards.
“Between the four of us, we are very complementary of each other,” Bahr said.