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May 14, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Coming off a season in which the Ohio State men’s soccer team faced the eighth-toughest schedule in the nation, the Buckeyes are set to face what could be an even tougher schedule in 2004. Head coach John Bluem unveiled the Buckeyes’ fall schedule this week that includes 17 regular season matches against some of the top teams in the country.

In 2003, Ohio State’s 19 opponents combined for an overall record of 215-126-47 for a .615 winning percentage. The schools that make up the Buckeyes’ 2004 slate did even better than that last year, posting a .627 winning percentage with an overall record of 195-106-49. Seven of those teams were among the 48-member 2003 NCAA tournament field.

“Once again, our strength of schedule is very good,” Bluem said. “It will help us gain an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament if we don’t earn the Big Ten’s automatic bid.”

Only three schools on the 2004 schedule had an overall record under .500 last year, and two of those schools, Penn State and Bowling Green, were only one game under .500 and advanced to the championship game of their respective conference tournaments. The Nittany Lions tied Indiana, the eventual national champion, 1-1 in the Big Ten tournament championship before the Hoosiers eventually won on penalty kicks, 4-1, while Bowling Green fell in the Mid-American Conference finale to NCAA tournament qualifier Western Michigan.

“The schedule is already harder than last year, even before the polls and rankings come out,” Frank Speth, Ohio State assistant coach, said. “But it’s good for the kids. We like to challenge them and they want the opportunity to prove themselves among the best in the country.”

Three home exhibition matches in August will get the preseason going, as Robert Morris (Aug. 21) and Pittsburgh (Aug. 24) visit Columbus, followed by Rutgers (11-7-4, NCAA second round in ’03) in the College Cup Preview Match at Crew Stadium Aug. 27. “It will be great to have three preseason exhibition matches against good, quality teams,” Bluem said. “With 14 returning players and eight new ones, the extra preseason matches will help us figure out which combination of players will give us the best chance for success.”

The regular season kicks off the following weekend with the Ohio State Classic, as the Buckeyes will face Wake Forest Sept. 3 and North Carolina Sept. 5. Both programs advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last fall as Wake Forest finished 15-5 overall and North Carolina finished 12-4-4.

Ohio State will then hit the road for a pair of weekend tournaments, beginning with the Mayor’s Cup Tournament in Oneonta, N.Y., Sept. 9 and 10 where the Buckeyes will face Oneonta State (10-2-6 in ’03) and Bluem’s alma mater, Hartwick (15-2-1 in ’03). Next up is the Penn State/NIKE Classic in State College, Pa., where OSU will face Akron and Virginia Tech. The Zips finished 15-5-2 a year go and advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual College Cup participant Maryland, while the Hokies were 14-5-3 in 2003 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Beginning the schedule with such strong opponents will be a welcomed task for the Ohio State coaching staff, which is confident the Buckeyes will be able to rise to the challenge.

“With having a good recruiting year last year and knowing this incoming recruiting class is just as good, we are very excited to show that last year was a fluke,” Speth said. “We’ve made some changes in the offseason and we feel that the talent in our program is a lot tighter and stronger from top to bottom. We are looking to be a much better team and we’re confident with the group that we are heading into fall camp with.”

Following the Penn State/NIKE Classic, Ohio State will play four of its next five matches at home, beginning with in-state rival Bowling Green Sept. 24. The Falcons finished 8-9-5 in 2003 but advanced to the Mid-American Conference tournament championship game before falling to Western Michigan. The Buckeyes will then travel to Kentucky (12-7-2 in ’03), Sept. 26.

The next two weeks of the schedule include just two Sunday matches, but both will be huge games as they mark the beginning of Big Ten play. Wisconsin (11-10-1 in ’03) will visit Columbus Oct. 3, while Michigan State (11-5-2 in ’03) comes calling Oct. 10. Last season the Buckeyes played their first two Big Ten games on the road, topping Wisconsin, 1-0, in Madison, and falling to the Spartans, 2-1, in double-overtime in East Lansing.

A non-conference foe, Louisville (11-7-3 in ’03) then visits Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium Oct. 13 in one of two mid-week games for the Buckeyes in 2004. The Cardinals defeated OSU, 1-0, last season in Louisville.

Of the six remaining matches on the regular season schedule following the Louisville contest, all but one will be played away from Columbus. The Buckeyes travel to Penn State (9-10-1 in ’03) Oct. 17 aiming to extend their winning streak over the Nittany Lions. OSU knocked off Penn State, 3-1, last year in Columbus. Another 2003 NCAA tournament qualifier then awaits Ohio State as Oakland (12-5-5 in ’03) will host the Buckeyes Oct. 20. The two teams played to a 2-2 tie last year in Columbus.

Ohio State’s final home contest of the season will be a big one as defending national champion Indiana comes to town Oct. 24. The Hoosiers have not been defeated in Big Ten regular season play since 1995, but many in Columbus remember Ohio State’s 1-0 Big Ten tournament victory vs. IU in 2000 in Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

The final three matches include trips to Northwestern (7-7-6 in ’03) Oct. 29, Valparaiso (2-13-2 in ’03) Oct. 31 and Michigan (14-7-1, NCAA third round in ’03). The Buckeyes will aim to finish strong and reverse an 0-1-2 record against those three squads from last year.

“Playing five of our last six games away from home should help us prepare for the postseason,” Bluem said. “By that time we should be playing our best soccer of the season, and playing at Michigan in the final game of the regular season should give us an edge in familiarity when we return there for the Big Ten tournament the following week.”

“Our record for wins in a season is 12, and to get close to that with this quality of schedule would be a great start,” Speth said. “You always shoot for the best, but even a couple ties or close losses could still be respectable results and not keep us out of the NCAA tournament.”

2004 Ohio State Men’s Soccer Schedule 8/21 ROBERT MORRIS (Exhibition) 2 p.m. 8/24 PITTSBURGH (Exhibition) 4 p.m. 8/27 RUTGERS, at Crew Stadium (Exhibition) 7 p.m.

Ohio State Classic (Columbus, Ohio) 9/3 Penn State vs. North Carolina 5 p.m. Ohio State vs. Wake Forest 7:30 p.m. 9/5 Penn State vs. Wake Forest noon Ohio State vs. North Carolina 2:30 p.m.

Mayor’s Cup Tournament (Oneonta, N.Y.) 9/10 vs. Oneonta State 5 p.m. 9/11 vs. Hartwick 7:30 p.m.

Penn State/NIKE Classic (State College, Pa.) 9/17 vs. Akron 5:15 p.m. 9/19 vs. Virginia Tech 1 p.m.

9/24 BOWLING GREEN 5 p.m. 9/26 at Kentucky 2:30 p.m. 10/3 WISCONSIN 2 p.m. 10/10 MICHIGAN STATE 2:30 p.m. 10/13 LOUISVILLE 7 p.m. 10/17 at Penn State 2 p.m. 10/20 at Oakland 4 p.m. 10/24 INDIANA 2:30 p.m. 10/29 at Northwestern 3 p.m. (CST) 10/31 at Valparaiso 1 p.m. (CST) 11/6 at Michigan 2 p.m.

Big Ten Tournament November 11th-14th at Michigan