North Central women’s soccer look to go one game further than last year
Last season, the North Central women’s soccer team came agonizingly close to their first ever NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Tournament appearance, falling 2-0 to Wheaton in the CCIW Tournament championship game. This year, the goal was to learn from that experience so they could hopefully take that next step.
“I think that we talked about last year, we weren’t ready for it last year and we came back this year, we were ready for it,” said junior goalkeeper Jordan Boyd. “We knew what we had to do to get back there and we weren’t going to let what happened last year kind of dictate what happened this year.”
Changes in formation and responsibility lead to national recognition and new records
While most of the roster returned, the Cardinals and head coach Andrew Gamarra did change up their tactics a bit, including switching from a four-player defensive line to a three player defense. This put a lot of responsibility on the players at the back, particularly junior Ellie Lochbaum who played in the center of the defense. But she and her teammates more than handled the pressure, and Lochbaum was named not only CCIW Defensive Player of the Year, but also North Central women’s soccer’s first ever All American.
“I think we knew we could go back to a three line with Ellie, you know, kind of anchoring,” Gamarra said. “We knew she had that capability, but I thought, you know, having Lauren (Fischer) back as a fifth year, Madi (Camaioni) with a year of experience after redshirting and watching, and just Jordan being steady.”
“It was a lot of ground to cover throughout the season, but I feel like we made it work and I was able to step into that role as an upperclassman now,” Lochbaum said. “I’m usually a pretty quiet player, but I try to communicate as best as I can in the middle. And having Jordan behind me is also awesome. We played club together since seventh grade, so we work really well together and I’m glad that everyone had trust in me to lead.”
“It’s a little chaotic just because being the person that can see the entire field, you have to be able to use your voice and tell people where they need to go,” said Boyd. “And sometimes that can get a little dysfunctional. But I think that that made us work more together and it wasn’t so solo anymore. So if someone slid over the other had to go with them, it was a lot more collaborative and a lot more trusting in each other that if something happens, someone else will be there to clean it up.”
With a strong season of her own in addition to the performance of the defense, Boyd set a new program record for shutouts in a season with seven.
“I don’t look at it as that was all me,” she said. “I look at that as you know, we had the least amount of shots on us this season. So having the people that I have in front of me is what kind of led us to that situation and having those people helping me in the back is what gave us that outcome at the end of the year.”
A strong regular season and conference awards
The Cardinals would lose just once all season, going unbeaten both in CCIW play and at home. For their efforts, a record four players were named to the all conference teams: Lochbaum, Elle Sutter and Sarah Andrey to the first team, and Morgan Veterbeten to the second team.
“I put myself in the spot where my teammates are setting me up to be there,” said Sutter, who led the team with 13 goals. “But there is like kind of a lot of pressure because when I’m not scoring, it’s my job to score. So everyone’s going to look at me and think, I’m not doing my job, but a part of it. It’s also just like kind of making sure my teammates are also able to score and not just focusing on myself because if we’re all scoring, the team is doing well.”
“I think it speaks volumes of the type of kids we’re getting now that they are, you know, first team all conference,” Gamarra said. “I think that’s the first time we’ve had three players on the first team. So I think that speaks volumes in terms of the type of kids we have and their competitiveness and drive. I think, you know, we’re hopeful they even have all-region players and additional All American players down the road.”
Persevering through a difficult stretch of soccer
Despite managing to keep opponents at bay, the Cardinals hit a bit of a rut mid season that let to a string of draws, including in three straight conference home games. As the postseason approached, they knew that not losing wasn’t going to be good enough.
“We just had a lot of talks and like we just were kind of like, we have to figure it out,” Sutter said. “We’re the only ones who can fix this. The coaches can coach us all they want, but we’re the only ones who are on the field and are able to put goals in the back of the net. And so I think when it came to (Illinois) Wesleyan, like it’s a game that we all just wanted so bad because it’s always like them and Wheaton are always that game where it’s just like we don’t want to lose. So I think when it got to that, we just were doing everything possible to get balls in the net.”
The response from the team was emphatic. They came from behind not once but twice to defeat Illinois Wesleyan 3-2 in their home finale, which earned them a bye in the CCIW tournament where they would once again face Wheaton. The game was cagey and chances were few and far between, until in the 76th minute when Sarah Andrey was fouled in the box and Lochbaum stepped up to take the ensuing penalty kick.
“I think as soon as Sarah drew that penalty kick, Sarah actually drew all four of my penalty kicks this year, I knew that I was going to take it and obviously I was a little bit nervous, but I knew I was the one that was going to have to do it and we had no choice but to score,” remembered Lochbaum. “The past three penalty kicks, I had gone right and all the Wheaton girls were saying ‘she’s going right, she’s going right’ So I went left on that one and it worked out for us. So I’m glad that we were able to win that.”
“It was extremely, extremely intense,” said Boyd. “Even though not much was going on and neither side, I would say it was still so intense in those moments where you see the ball coming down the line and you just know that this cannot go in the back of the net. So I think that us wanting to walk away with that win, but also walk away with a shutout is what made us want to win that game even more.”
Familiar disappointment adds more fuel to the fire
Unfortunately, the Cardinals once again fell at the hurdle of the CCIW championship game as Illinois Wesleyan claimed the title. However, they thought their resume was strong enough to warrant an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But when all 32 team names were read out on the selection show, theirs wasn’t one of them.
“I think it’s just it’s been really hard because we’ve made it to the conference championship two years in a row and being on the field for 90 minutes for both of those games and losing it, it doesn’t feel good,” Lochbaum said.
“I think it was difficult not to hear out name called, but I think that fuels the fire,” said Gamarra. “I think sitting in the room watching the watching that live as a group for the first time and then trying to get, uh, trying to get in is a huge statement. So I think it wasn’t so much as what we’re saying as a coaching staff. I think that message was sent pretty clear when our name wasn’t called. I think they all want that feeling heading into next year that they want to be called heading into the second week in November and continue to play and know that they deserved it.”
“That was the first time we had ever had the opportunity to watch the NCAA selection show,” Boyd said. “I don’t think any of us were really sure how it was going to go. And then when they kept calling names, we all were like just waiting for our name. And then when it wasn’t called, it was kind of just silence. It was kind of just a reflection on we didn’t get there, so what are we going to do next year? And I think that next year it will again fuel the fire for what we need to do. I think we’ll be 100% more prepared for next year.”
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Sutter. “So I was just kind of sitting there and obviously it was disappointing when it wasn’t when our name wasn’t called. And I thought it should have been called. But we like we still lost the conference championship. And so from there it’s just like there’s more work to be done.”
This Cardinals team now has no shortage of experience. While the core of the team next year will mostly be seniors, they’ve also now twice gone through the heartbreak of coming up a game short. They know what they’re capable of, and hope that belief combined with hard work will lead to a breakthrough in 2023.
“I think next year it will be a lot different,” Sutter said of what will be many of the players’ senior season. “Like, we want to get back in the national rankings, but I don’t think next year we’ll let that get to our head as much. This year I think it got to our head and we had that pressure and like all the other teams in conference were like pinning it on us when we got to games against them because they knew that we were the team to beat, we were ranked. So I think next year like having that experience, we’ll be able to be more composed in games and just know what to expect from teams instead of ending up with a bunch of the ties that we did this year.”
“I think we really competed with some of the highest teams this year,” said Lochbaum. “We beat a ranked team, which we’ve never done before and we never knew that we could do that. And that kind of gave us the idea like, Oh, we can compete with some of the best teams around the country. And we also are unbeaten at home, which was awesome this year.
“I think the kids, you know, see that they are a top 25 program, that they can compete with the best,” Gamarra said. “And I think they’re going to I think they’re going to get after it. Now heading into next year we know that we can’t leave it into anybody’s hands except our own. And when we get to those moments that we have to, you know, do our best in terms of, you know, finishing the game or, you know, controlling the wins and losses. But I thought the season was a successful year in so many different aspects. And just because we fell short in the last game of the year doesn’t, you know, reflect in terms of the, you know, the progress that the program’s made.”