July 23, 2003
Ohio State head coach Lori Walker is again at the helm of another young Buckeye squad, but what makes the 2003 season differ from years prior is Walker now lays claim to a youthful group rich in “big game” experience, as the team returns all but three starters from the 2002 Big Ten Tournament championship squad and the program’s first bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Walker has led an Ohio State program accustomed to fielding starting lineups consisting of heavy freshman contributions in past years and sees that as an advantage heading into 2003.
“We have the majority of our team back.” Walker, who claimed three NCAA championships as a goalkeeper at North Carolina, said. “We are youthful, yet experienced. Freshmen who have assumed starting roles for us the last couple years are now seasoned sophomores and juniors. Although we have a roster that lists just one returning senior, we probably have the most experienced team in my tenure. This is the group that has the talent and drive to put Ohio State in the Top 25 on a consistent basis.”
Walker, an Academic All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection on three occasions, must replace departed seniors Jen Miller, a two-time All-Big Ten defender, and Lindsay Eckles, OSU’s second all-time leading scorer. She looks at the 2002 season as another stepping-stone for her program, which now will seek new heights in both the Big Ten conference and on the national scene.
“Anytime a program clears a new hurdle it results in a new level of confidence,” Walker said. “With that, new standards and expectations are established for your team. We must strive to improve each year and we will look to once again raise the bar in 2003.”
Walker has prepared her team with a daunting out of conference schedule in each of the last two seasons. The Buckeyes, who battled three ranked teams to start the 2002 season, will once again face a slate full of top-flight programs, highlighted by home matches versus Virginia (Sept. 5), Michigan (Oct. 3), Michigan State (Oct. 5) and defending Big Ten regular season champion Penn State (Oct. 24) to close out the conference campaign. The home schedule also includes a rematch with Big Ten tournament finalist Wisconsin Oct. 17. Indiana State (August 29), Youngstown State (Sept. 21), Coastal Carolina (Sept. 14) and Big Ten foes Iowa (Sept. 19) and Minnesota (Oct. 19) also will pay visits to Columbus.
“Our schedule provides the right combination of games at home at the right times in the season,” Walker said. “We are thrilled to play host to Virginia. The Cavaliers present a tremendous match-up for the second week of the season. They have several players who hail from the Midwest, so it will be an exciting Atlantic Coast Conference – Big Ten match up. Obviously, closing out the Big Ten season with Penn State at home is another outstanding match and a huge advantage in our rivalry with the Nittany Lions.”
OSU will remain in the state of Ohio for its first two road contests as the Buckeyes will travel first to Dayton, Ohio for a bout with Wright State (August 31) and then follow with another short trip to take on the Bearcats of Cincinnati (Sept. 12).
Ohio State’s first of two Big Ten road trips will feature matches with Indiana (Sept. 26) and Purdue (Sept. 28), while the second will pit OSU against Illinois (Oct. 10) and Northwestern (Oct. 12). The Buckeyes will close out its season with a trip to Chicago to face Loyola-Chicago (Oct. 27) and a third intrastate match at Bowling Green (Oct. 31).
“The schedule is tough as usual,” Walker said. “Our philosophy has always been ‘to be the best…you have to play the best’. That is why we have scheduled North Carolina as one of our preseason scrimmages.That exhibition will help set a tone, which we hope to carry into our regular season matches.”
Two-time Ohio State Most Valuable Offensive Player, Lisa Grubb, will once again head the Buckeye frontline. Grubb, who has led OSU in scoring in each of her two seasons with the Scarlet and Gray, will team up again with Ohio State’s second leading scorer in 2002, Colleen Hoban. Hoban and Grubb combined to score 14 of the Buckeyes’ 28 goals last season. Also joining Grubb and Hoban up front will be sophomore Nicole Braman, who possesses extraordinary speed, and junior transfer Kathy Fulk. A Columbus native, Fulk comes to Ohio State following an outstanding All-Southeastern Conference performance as a freshman at Kentucky.
Adding speed and depth to the frontline will be fellow transfer Megan Stickler (East Carolina), sophomore Kristen Clark and freshman additions Taylor Smith and Kate Linehan.
“We have set high standards for our frontline,” Walker said. “They are a team within a team; a group that is expected to produce goals as one unit. We expect Grubb to continue to dazzle us with her ability and passion for the game. Hoban has the best technical skills on the team and should build on a solid first season. Fulk and Stickler are dynamic additions and should accent our frontline well. Nicole Braman has only begun to showcase her abilities and should shine this season.”
Perhaps the deepest area on the squad, the Ohio State midfield personifies Walker’s description of youth and experience. With lone returning senior Jackie Shirer and juniors Heather Miller, Liz Mumley and 2002 starter Emily Gilbert, combined with All-Big Ten freshman performer Danielle Dietrich, the Buckeyes enjoy outstanding athletic and veteran presence in the midfield.
“Emily Gilbert is a warrior in the middle,” Walker said. “Her organization and physical presence are crucial to the team. Dietrich, who played through a broken arm and fractured foot last season, has the height and ability to dominate the midfield. Heather was so solid for us in the Big Ten Championship. No one on our roster possesses a stronger shot. Her vision has improved immensely and her role will continue to expand.”
Gilbert, Dietrich and sophomore Kristin Sawchak will vie for positions in the center, while H. Miller, Liz Mumley and redshirt freshman Kelsey Thornton are expected to negotiate the flanks.
New addition Tara Latella, a transfer from IUPUI, will provide speed and added experience to either the midfield or the frontline.
Perhaps the most daunting task facing Walker and her staff is replacing departed All-Big Ten performer Jen Miller at the center back position, along with the a 2002 backline that included fellow departed seniors Shelly Besson, Becky Broering and Sarah Lanham.
“Replacing the leadership from 2002 is going to be one of our biggest challenges,” Walker said. “Jen Miller was a leader by example and we have spent a majority of the off season searching for someone to step into such a vital role.”
Although replacing such players will be difficult, Walker has confidence in a backline led by returning junior starters Erica Nollen, a starter in all 42 of her collegiate contests, and Paige Harrison. Nollen will see action at the right center back position, while Harrison will assume her 2002 role as an attacking back on the right flank. Redshirt freshman Mellisa Miller (not related to Jen Miller or Heather Miller) is a candidate to take over the remaining center back position from her All-Big Ten namesake. Miller possesses exceptional athletic ability combined with height and an aptitude to read the game.
“Erica Nollen has played nearly every minute she has been at Ohio State,” Walker stated. “She has stepped up and taken the lead as a strong voice in the back line. Melissa Miller is returning from injury in 2002 and is a tremendous athlete and competitor who will help fill Jen Miller’s shoes.”
Sophomores Kristin Sawchak and Molly Kiggins also will contribute considerable minutes in the OSU backline, while freshman Emily Francis should see action as well.
Stiff competition will once again fuel the Buckeye goalkeepers as 2002 starter Emily Haynam, who doubles as an OSU women’s basketball player in the winter, 2001 starter Jen Heaney, redshirt freshman Shannon Neely and newcomer Staci Sinkway, a heralded freshman from Mission Viejo, Calif., will vie for the starting spot in the OSU net.
“Our goalkeeper competition is going to be the toughest that we have ever had,” Walker said. “Jen Heaney and Shannon Neely had outstanding spring sessions. Haynam is such a presence that even though she was with basketball for the majority of the spring, she is in the thick of the competition. Sinkway is one of the top recruited goalkeepers in the country. The competition amongst the group will only make each athlete better and that is a very positive force.”
Haynam stepped into the Ohio State goal during the latter half of the season and led the Buckeyes to victories in six of nine starts, recording all three wins in the Big Ten tournament. Heaney, who began the 2002 campaign as the OSU netminder, has 11 collegiate wins under her belt, while Sinkway comes to Ohio State as a highly-touted recruit with exceptional size and athletic ability.
A talented blend of transfer athletes and first-year players will be looked upon as solid contributors to the 2003 season. Each addition carries an impressive resume to Columbus, featuring Fulk, an All-Freshman Southeastern Conference selection in 2001, Latella, who earned team Most Valuable Player honors at IUPUI in 2002 and Megan Stickler, a Conference USA All-Freshman Team performer at East Carolina.
“We are very pleased that Fulk, Latella and Sticker decided to join our squad,” Walker said. “They are all players that you definitely want on your side and do not want to play against. We are quite happy to have their abilities in scarlet and gray uniforms.”
The freshman class also possesses high accolades as Sinkway enrolled at Ohio State after All-Greater Los Angeles First Team recognition at Capistrano Valley High School. Fellow newcomers, Emily Francis, a three-time team MVP in scholastic play, and K.C. Rosenfeld, a league and team MVP in 2002, will vie for considerable playing time as well.
“The two players that we look to make the biggest impact in their rookie seasons are Sinkway and Francis,” Walker said. “Sinkway, with her combination of size and ability to stop shots is the all-around athletic goalkeeper that every coach seeks. Francis passed under the recruiting radar, but is a Buckeye through-and-through and her excitement to be on this team is uplifting and already has had a fantastic impact on this team. “
Other newcomers looking to contribute will be Nicole St. Cyr, Kate Linehan, Taylor Smith, Mikki Stein, K.C. Becker and Jackie Lafond.