|Owens women advance to nationals (11-15-13)|
|Written by THOMAS SCHMELTZ Sentinel Sports Writer|
|Friday, 15 November 2013 11:19|
Owens Community College's women's soccer program seemingly came out of nowhere. But as soon as head coach Mary Whisler arrived on campus, the Express became relevant.
In her third season since starting the program at Owens, Whisler has led her team to a place many can only dream of being.
The Express, ranked No. 13 in the National Junior College Athletic Association national poll, have advanced to the Division I national tournament.
Owens, seeded ninth at 17-2, opens the tournament against No. 4 Darton State College (Ga.) (20-1) on Monday in Melbourne, Fla.
"It's indescribable. It's something I knew we could do, but having it happen is different," Whisler said. "It was probably one of the best days of my life. I could not ask for a better team to take somewhere like this."
The Express enter the tournament playing their best soccer to date.
Since starting the season 2-2, Owens has ripped off a school-record 15 straight wins.
In that time, the Express have out-scored their opponents 63-9 and claimed their first Region XII tournament championship.
"The girls bought into everything I said," said Whisler, who was named Region XII coach of the year. "They made the changes, they were dedicated, they listened and they got better. They knew all along that we could be the best team in the region."
Last season, Owens, hampered by injuries, fell 1-0 to Muskegon Community College in the Region XII semifinals.
It was an agonizing defeat as Owens was the No. 1 seed and Muskegon was the No. 4 seed.
Due to injuries, ''There were players who weren't playing their position," sophomore forward Jessica Grindle said of last year's team. "But this year everyone actually gets to play their position, and we get to show people what we're made of."
Grindle was one of those players playing an unfamiliar spot in 2012.
A Northwood High School graduate, Grindle missed eight games with a sprained knee. Admittedly, she hated playing midfield, but she still scored six goals and recorded three assists.
This season, fueled by redemption, Grindle has been outstanding.
The Region XII tournament MVP and first-team All-Region XII selection made the switch back to forward and has scored a team-high 21 goals. She also has five assists. She ranked in the top 30 in the nation in scoring.
"Being injured last year, this year she came in fit and determined. … This year she took on that role," Whisler said of Grindle. "She's a born goal scorer and she's displayed that in all kinds of different games, not just against weak opponents.
"The girl knows how to score, and her leadership has come along with that."
It has been a season full of firsts for the Express.
In addition to claiming its first regional championship, its longest winning streak and its first trip to nationals, Owens also tallied a win over its highest ranked opponent.
The Express defeated then No. 11 Schoolcraft College, a 2-1 double overtime decision, won on a header by Haley Kreger. At the time, Schoolcraft was undefeated.
Schoolcraft was Owens' last loss, when it beat the Express 3-1 on Sept. 4.
"We beat Schoolcraft and everyone thought we would lose to them," Grindle said. "It was amazing beating Schoolcraft. It was important for us.
"We knew when we went there we weren't going to show much mercy," she added.
For Whisler, who has guided Owens to a 42-12-3 record in her three years, she hopes this is not the plateau for Express women's soccer.
"We're constantly building our way up," Whisler said. "The recruiting process has been ideal because the Toledo area is really strong in talent.
"Every year we have gotten better and better," she added. "This is going to be a tough (season) to top, but if we keep on the path we are, we'll keep getting better."
Marissa Ramirez, also a Northwood High School graduate, is a defender for the Express and was a second-team all-region selection.
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