The Bowling Green State University women’s soccer team has won four straight Mid-American Conference championships.
However, for the second year in a row, the Falcons were picked to finish second. BGSU, 11-7-3 overall and 8-2-1 in the MAC last year, proved them wrong, winning a title. Can they do it again?
Before that even gets settled, coach Jimmy Walker has a thing to say about his team and how they view polls, even though it was a coaches’ poll and he was one of the voters.
“They’ll be ready. They are excited for the season. We don’t put too much into that anyways. It’s hard to predict before we’ve even kicked a ball who is going to win the conference,” Walker said.
“There is a lot of soccer left for everybody and we’ll just continue to concentrate on one game at a time and be ready for the next game.”
Walker’s players are not putting much stock into the poll, either.
“I mean, I don’t think any of us really look to that and say, ‘Oh yeah, that defines us as a team,’” said 5-foot-1 junior forward Lacee Bethea. “I think just coming together and working hard on and off the pitch is so more important than numbers on a page. I think it’s going to show.
“Once the season progresses, we will get those chances, we will finish those chances and that No. 2 will be a No. 1 and we’ll get another championship,” Bethea said.
Lili Berg, a 5-8 senior goalkeeper, added, “We are going to go out every day on the field and play our best. We’re just going to leave everything on the field and let our playing do the talking.”
Spartans, Falcons go head-to-head
The Falcons return 15 letterwinners, including eight starters from last year’s team that not only won the conference title, but the MAC tournament title.
BGSU opened the season Thursday at Cochrane Soccer Stadium hosting Michigan State and falling 2-0.
The Falcons gave up five corner kicks to the Spartans during the first six minutes, and eventually Michigan State’s aggressiveness on offense came back to bite the Falcons.
“I’m disappointed with the results tonight, but I felt that the competitiveness was there. We just played a little bit sloppy the first 15 minutes,” Walker said.
Michigan State’s first score started when freshman forward Maggie Illig’s 40-yard shot was blocked by Berg, but the ball got loose.
Michigan State senior forward Lauren DeBeau one-timed the rebound back into the front corner of the net to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead eight minutes and 28 seconds into the game.
Michigan State junior forward Camryn Evans scored the second goal on a penalty kick just six minutes and 50 seconds into the second half.
MSU outshot BGSU 17-7 and the Spartans had eight first half corner kicks to zero for the Falcons, and the Spartans ended with a 9-3 advantage in CKs.
Berg, a returning starter who played the entire game, had seven saves, but the Falcons were whistled for 12 fouls to the Spartans’ nine. After a relatively clean first half, there were 14 second-half fouls combined by both teams.
The Falcons had scoring opportunities, including several over-the-top plays that resulted in chances for Bethea and freshman forward Brynn Gardner.
For the Falcons, senior forward Kennedy White had two shots, and getting one shot apiece were Gardner, Bethea, junior midfielder Maya Dean, senior midfielder Katie Cox and junior forward Ellie Pool.
“Honestly, we had a lot of good chances,” Bethea said. “You are going to have good chances in any game that you have, but having quality and finishing those chances is something that is going to come as the season progresses.
“I think we all worked really hard, and it is sad that our hard work did not really pay off, but it will pay off. This is the first game of the season and it’s a good building block for the rest,” Bethea said.
It was the 23rd time the two programs had met with Michigan State now owning a 19-1-3 edge in the series.
Last year in East Lansing the Falcons played to a 1-1 tie with the Spartans, who finished 10-5-3 overall and 5-4-1 in the Big Ten Conference.
It’s about playing the right teams before MAC play begins, Walker said.
“It’s playing great competition. That is going to make us better, it is going to improve us. We’ve got another great game coming up in Cincinnati next week (Aug. 25), and then we’ve got Tennessee (Aug. 31), who arguably will be No. 1 in the country at that point,” Walker said.
“Exciting times ahead for the program. Everything we are doing right now is to build for conference play, so it is going to challenge us, it is going to make us better.”