A season that started a little rocky has escalated into a banner year for the UT women’s soccer team, with the Rockets hosting the first game of the MAC championship.
“Regardless of whatever level you compete at, your conference is always the most difficult grind of your schedule because teams know you; you know the other teams,” said Brad Evans, head coach. “In our conference, there are no easy games; there are just no easy games. So to make it through as the top team at the end of the season is quite an accomplishment.”
The Rockets went 8-2 in the conference this year, but nearly a decade ago, they barely appeared on the radar screen. Evans attributed the recent success to his players’ mentality, relying on them to make good decisions under pressure-filled situations. The approach has led to a
No. 1 seed and a chance to host the entire tournament.
“If you have a sense of our background, where we started eight seasons ago — we’ve got two conference championships in the past two years,” he added. “In the conference tournament, we’ve been to the NCAA tournament the past two years, regular season championship this year so far. You know, eight years ago we couldn’t talk about things like that.”
Taking the field in November can cause problems of its own, with inclement weather and academic commitments taking their toll on the team during late-season play. Yet, for Evans and his team, the achievement merely spurs them toward a conference trophy and the fulfillment of winning. He described the efforts of his players both on and off the field as a direct correlation, one where the goal is to perform at a peak level and not a predetermined standard.
“I think it’s not necessarily about the GPA, it’s about the approach,” Evans said. “And if you have kids that are committed to doing their best in whatever it is they do, whether it’s school or soccer, I’ll go into battle with those kids any day. So if their best is a 3.0, then I’m as proud of those kids as if their best is a 4.0. So it’s not about their GPA, it’s about their approach.
“You can see it every day. When you have to practice on a day like today when the temperature is 46 degrees; it’s windy, you’re going to know what approach a player has, what level of commitment they have.”
For team captain Annie Sullivan, the opportunity to play in a MAC tournament caps a collegiate career marked by tall obstacles. The Cincinnati native climbed a ladder to her current role, beginning her freshman year, when she didn’t start. Eventually, however, she found herself leading the team at the midfielder position, where she has to play both sides of the ball.
She also serves as a conduit between the coach and the players, relaying his messages to her teammates so they may capitalize on Evans’ experience. The result has been tantamount to creating a new image for UT, one of almost powerhouse status.
“We were able to come together and really make a good thing out of the season and then also the past two seasons have been real great, too,” Sullivan said. “Toledo soccer is kind of been about that. You kind of earn where you are. It’s a good thing.”
The Rockets, 13-4 overall, host post-season play Nov. 2.