Kickin' it up a notch
>> Soccer Photo Gallery
The date: Nov. 8, 2002. The venue: Miami Soccer Field, Oxford, Ohio. The opponent: the Ball State women's soccer team. The stakes: a chance to advance to the championship game of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
The victor: Ohio University.
Half a week later, her team's hopes for an NCAA tournament bid already dashed by a 5-1 loss to Miami, Strauss had things in perspective.
"This is the first time," she says, "that the people who surround the program -- the team, the staff, the administrators -- can say we have a tradition of success at Ohio in women's soccer."
Strauss is in her third season as head coach of the women's soccer team, which in six short years has twice finished a single win shy of an NCAA tournament bid and has won or shared the Mid-American Conference regular-season title two times. The program's overall record is 72-45-5, including the 37-23-2 mark Strauss can claim.
This past fall, the 15-5-2 Bobcats went undefeated on their new home field and toppled seven school records. They claimed two MAC tournament wins: 1-0 heart-stoppers over Eastern Michigan in a quarterfinal and Ball State in a semifinal.
"Coming down the stretch, we played some of our best games," says Strauss, a former Kenyon College goalkeeper who, at 28, might pass for a team member herself. "We had something in our grasp and weren't able to hang on."
She'll need that experienced lineup, too. Strauss knows one way to raise the bar is to play tougher opponents. So she's worked four Big Ten teams -- Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern and Illinois -- into next year's lineup after none this season and only one in each of the previous two years.
"The hope is that in the next year or two our conference improves to the point that we can get more than one team in the NCAA, and I think we can help forge the way in that," she says. The 64 slots go to 29 tournament winners (Miami from the MAC for the last three years) and 35 at-large nominees.
Her team's stats -- even the quirky ones -- give Strauss confidence. The women scored 52 goals this season, topping the previous high of 48, for a 2.31 goal per game average. (The only MAC competitor with more goals was Miami, with 53; next were Ball State and Bowling Green, both with 38.) Each Bobcat put 185 hours into practice, weight training and game time; logged 79 hours on the bus (tally those in the team-building column); and laced up her cleats almost 100 times.
"And never once did any one of them indicate they'd rather be doing something else," Strauss says. "This is a cohesive group."
Forward Christel Schiering agrees the team had a bond this year like none she's known in at least 15 years in the sport.
"We are a model for the word 'team,'" says the junior from Cincinnati. "We play well as a team; we play bad as a team. I can't stress enough what it's been like to be involved with this group of people, the unity that we have."
The soft-spoken Schiering led the Bobcats with 15 goals, including at least one in each of the team's first eight games -- a MAC record. By season's end, she had set a new school standard for career goals with 35 (and still has another year with the team ahead).
At 5-foot-1, she considered herself too short to play Division I soccer. Luckily, former Ohio coach Wendy Logan didn't. But even after three stellar seasons, Schiering is noticeably uncomfortable in the limelight.
"I can't take all the credit because it's not mine to take. I attribute a lot of it to my teammates," she says. "I was just the last person to touch the ball."
Schiering, like her teammates and coach, puts a high priority on grades. The special education major took one of 12 spots on the Academic All-MAC Team, carrying a 3.47 GPA into the fall season. The team sported a 3.2 GPA overall, the highest of any Ohio University intercollegiate team.
Unlike Schiering, co-captains Abby Leopold and Rachel Najjar don't have another college season ahead. Both seniors plan to attend tryouts for pro and semi-pro women's soccer leagues this January in Florida.
"It's always been fun for me," says Najjar, a forward who was the team's second-leading scorer with 11 goals this season and a second-team All-MAC pick. "It's challenging, and I love competing."
The fire of competition has kept Leopold in the game as well, and she acknowledges it will be hard to move on. The first-team All-MAC selection had seven goals this fall and tied Hornschemeier, a sophomore, with a school-record 11 assists.
"We have been extremely successful," Leopold says. "It didn't take any time at all to establish a good program, and hopefully that will continue."
The midfielder points to the top when asked what's behind the success: "Stacy is by far one of the best coaches I've ever had. I've never seen a coach more excited to work with the players or more interested in their lives."
Strauss, though, casts her commendations a bit wider: "Our success is a product of so many things, not the least of which are the school and the campus and the community."
Seems like a pretty good support system for maintaining a tradition.
Mary Alice Casey is editor of Ohio Today. Krisanne Johnson is a graduate assistant in photography for University Communications and Marketing.
Ohio University Front Door | Ohio University Alumni Association
Copyright © Ohio University