New League Name, Same Result
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Nothing could ring more true than referring to Oakland women’s soccer. The Golden Grizzlies claimed their sixth tournament championship this year, defeating top-seeded Western Illinois, 3-1, on the OU Soccer Field.
“It was great winning at home,” said 14-year head coach Nick O’Shea. “The fans were awesome and it was nice to see some of the proud parents right after the game. I know it was special for the seniors.”
After starting The Summit League (formerly the Mid-Continent Conference) 1-2, the Golden Grizzlies rattled off five consecutive wins to end the regular season in second place with a 6-2 mark.
Like the year before, the Grizzlies took that No. 2 seed and turned into gold, winning the tournament championship against the Westerwinds for the second straight year, making their fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“Making the NCAA tournament is always special,” said O’Shea. “An opportunity to play for the national title is exciting.”
The Golden Grizzlies were sent to West Lafayette, Ind., to face No. 8 Purdue in the opening round of the tournament. The Golden Grizzlies held the eighth-ranked Boilermakers scoreless in the first half, but surrendered four goals in the second 45 minutes, after being forced to open the style of play up to try and tie the game.
Disappointing after winning three straight games and only tasting defeat once in its last 11 games, a 2-1 defeat to No. 24 Indiana in Bloomington on Oct. 21. The Golden Grizzlies finished the season with an overall record of 10-8-2.
“It would have been nice to win some games in the NCAA tournament,” said O’Shea. “We have made it often enough now and it is time to start winning when we get there.”
The Golden Grizzlies continued to play a tough non-conference schedule, with three games against nationally ranked opponents. Oakland hosted eventual national champion, Southern California, on Sept. 21, falling to the Women of Troy, 2-0.
Other tough non-conference games for OU were Syracuse, Iowa State, Cincinnati, Dayton and Illinois State, carrying a 1-3-1 record versus those opponents. Those games did come early as did a pair of losses in The Summit League, which added North Dakota State, South Dakota State and IPFW.
“Having more games in the league definitely forces us to put more emphasis on those games,” said O’Shea. “This year was especially difficult with The Summit League games as early as the second weekend.
“We really didn’t have time to work on our style of play as long as we would have liked as wins and losses became more important. After our second league loss, we made some substantial changes for league games which allowed us to win our next five, plus the tournament games.”
One of the low points for the Grizzlies was a 5-0 loss at Dayton on Sept. 23. That loss put OU’s record to 2-6 on the season, and 1-2 in league play. That was the turning point for the Golden Grizzlies, who finished the year 8-2-2.
“Interesting enough it was the catalyst to our success the rest of the season,” said O’Shea about the Dayton loss. “We made some tough decisions after that and really played well from that game forward.”
Senior Kristi Tomczyk was named The Summit League Offensive Player of the Year, for the second straight season, after leading the Golden Grizzlies with nine goals, seven assists and 25 points. She tallied a league-best five goals and 14 points in Summit League games only.
Tomczyk, a native of Clinton Township, Mich., garnered first team all-league honors for the second consecutive season and was named to the Soccer Buzz Great Lakes Region third team. She ended her career eighth all-time in program history with 28 goals and 11th with 67 points, all in just three seasons.
Joining Tomczyk on the first team all-league team was fellow senior Kristi Mitchell and junior Jessica Boyle. Mitchell, a native of Troy, Mich., solidified the OU defense and earned first team honors for the first time in her career.
Boyle, a native of Lake Orion, Mich., was a first team selection and went on to garner tournament most valuable player honors for the second consecutive season. She finished the year with six goals and six assists, for a total of 18 points, second on the team.
Senior walk-on Jamie Hulet and freshman Elizabeth Watza were named to the all-Newcomer team. Hulet, a forward from Harrison Township, Mich., finished second on the team with six goals and third with 14 points. Watza, a goalkeeper from Northville, Mich., posted one shutout and finished 5-2-1 in the net.
“Our entire roster played very well this year,” said O’Shea. “Because of the entire team’s hard work, these players were able to achieve recognition within the league.”
Despite losing the two-time offensive player of the year, the Golden Grizzlies should be just as strong next season. Oakland returns seven starters and two strong goalkeepers in Watza and junior Kim Herbst, who finished 9-7-2, with a 1.47 goals against average.
“This group of players did very well this year and I believe that we have a good core returning and are poised to do very well next year,” said O’Shea. “Our team goals for next year are going to be loftier in terms of both results and style of play.”
And why not. A new league name may not have changed the results of which team wins the championship, but maybe, just maybe, it will change the results of what that team is able to do in the national championship.
Only time will tell.
Oakland University 2007. All rights reserved.