BGSU women’s soccer embracing multiple challenges heading into 2021 season

Brandon Loe and Brandon Loe

Fifteen months, a new coaching staff and an on-field leadership change. That’s what has separated BGSU women’s soccer from their 2019 season finale and the 2021 spring season opener vs. Akron today.

After back-to-back MAC championships in the past two seasons, the pressure remains as they try to three-peat for the first time in program history.

The morning before opening kickoff, the Falcons were selected to win the East portion of the MAC after a format change this offseason. They were also selected to win the MAC Tournament, which this year will consist of only a single game between East and West winners.

The coaching staff of the Falcons now consists of Head Coach Jimmy Walker and his assistants Dani Johnson, Scott Rissler and Erik Van Der Meulen. This coming after the departure of Matt Fannon, Dan Ball and Erin Kielmeyer after the conclusion of the 2019 season.

Other changes for the Falcons include the graduation of Chelsee Washington, Maureen Kennedy and Kathleen Duwve. Other players will have to emerge as on-field leaders to fill these roles.

The Falcons’ new class of players consists of seven players (five freshmen and two Ohio State transfers). All seven saw action during the preseason. Madi Wolfbauer, 2019 transfer from Illinois, will also sport brown and orange for the first time after sitting out during the 2019 season due to a torn ACL in the summer prior.

Prior to conference play the Falcons were able to play three exhibition games. They won all three contests, defeating Toledo (5-0), Saginaw Valley State (8-2) and Butler (2-1). The five-goal victory over Toledo marked the largest victory ever over the I-75 foe, and the win against Butler signified the Falcons first win over a Big East opponent since 2002.

And it was an important preseason for the team, according to Walker.

“It’s really exciting to be able to play outside competition after playing against ourselves for this extended period. We’ve gotten to play different teams and formations and it was great to see the team handle those situations and to handle them well,” he said.

One of the key returners for the Falcons is 2019 captain Nikki Cox. Cox will serve as a captain again this season, alongside Rachel Muller and Nikhita Jacob. Muller returns to play for the first time since the 2019 season opener versus Kentucky where she tore her ACL. Nikhita Jacob was the 2019 MAC Tournament MVP.

Cox changed positions over the course of the offseason, moving from center forward to attacking midfielder. She talked about the change and how it is the first time in a midfield role since high school.

“It’s been an adjustment, it’s something I’m still working on and constantly trying to get better. I think my playing style fits the position so it hasn’t changed the way I play, just more of my location on the field,” she said.

Since Walker arrived at BGSU he has emphasized how the team has an opportunity to be one of the better teams in school history. Cox has already been a part of two of the best teams in program history and sees this year’s team as one that can also make an impact.

“I think there really is something special about this group, there’s a lot of dedication amongst  everyone on the team, the competition amongst us on a daily basis sets a standard for everyone to show up and give their best day in and day out and we aren’t just playing for ourselves, we’re playing for each other,” Cox said.

Also stepping into a bigger role this season is sophomore center back Audrey Shea. Shea started all 18 games for the Falcons during her freshman season and will now serve as the vocal leader on the back line for the Falcons.

“I’m excited to step into that leadership role, I feel like I have a bigger voice this season, so it’s going to be really nice to use that throughout the year,” Shea said.

Another sophomore with a chance at a major accomplishment this season is forward Kennedy White, who after leading the team with 10 goals last season has a chance to be only the third player in Falcon history to have back-to-back seasons with double digit goals. White gave much of the credit to her teammates for the opportunity to score during her freshman season.

“A lot of those goals came from opportunities from my teammates, as long as I give 110% every game the goals are gonna come and we just have to capitalize on those open situations and opportunities,” she said.

Coach Walker, and Cox, Shea and White said the extended break brought them together, as it hasn’t allowed them to take anything for granted.

The goal of three consecutive MAC championships and an NCAA Tournament victory is certainly a tall task to accomplish, but the coaching staff and the players are confident in themselves and the ability to get the job done.