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The Bobcats celebrate after scoring a late goal to extend the lead to 3-1, sealing the victory against conference rival Central Michigan. (FILE)

Field Hockey: Under a first-year coach Ohio had a season it can build off of

With a new coach, Ohio experienced a building year. While they found success offensively, the defensive struggles resulted in the team winning just five games. 

Coach Ali Johnstone brought in a system that the team didn’t have much time to learn, let alone have time to get to know each other. Eight of the 19 players on this season’s team were new in August. 

Despite the limited practice time, Ohio found success in the first half of the season. The Bobcats went 4-4 before their schedule got tough at the start of Mid-American Conference with a matchup against No.3 Duke. 

The Bobcats (5-12, 2-4 MAC) finished with four single-goal losses. 

“I think our record could have quite a bit better but there was just a lot of new players and a new system and a lot of changes for the whole team,” Johnstone said. “By the end of the season I think we're in really good shape for next year, for sure."

Ohio made the MAC Tournament for the first time in three years and won its first game there since 2014 with help from an improved attack. The attack was much stronger this season as the Bobcats scored five more goals than last season.

The three starting forwards developed a chemistry throughout the season to combine for 19 of the 25 Bobcat goals. Each of them had a different skill set that gave opposing defenses trouble when combined. 

Coming from Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference, transfer Jillian Shive was expected to score and proved herself with 11 goals. Shive found most of her success when there was chaos in front of goal, where she was able to tip-in goals. Ohio didn’t win a game this season without Shive scoring a goal.

Karynne Baker was a top contributor to Ohio’s counter-attack. She was a threat with her speed that allowed her to outrun any player Ohio faced. The junior scored six goals on the season, the most goals in her career.

“We didn't have an entire corner unit (in the spring) so we honestly have started from scratch in preseason,” Johnstone said. “It makes sense that we were more comfortable and confident and more successful towards the end of the season because it takes a long time to perfect your corners."

While the attack showed promise, the defense struggled. Ohio allowed an average of three goals per game, a one-goal increase from last year. In five games, more than five goals were scored against them. 

The three backfield players hadn’t ever played together prior to Johnstone’s high-pressure system as coach. The opposing team can take advantage of opportunities if everyone is not working together. Johnstone attributes most of the problems to poor communication that gave opponents open looks. 

"I think we struggled with our communication in the backfield and if we're not communicating with each other than every small opportunity becomes a goal,” Johnstone said. 

When opponents got the ball into the Ohio shooting circle, the Bobcats struggled to clear the ball far enough to relieve the pressure. They struggled to stop attacks and not allow penalty corners.

Three of Ohio’s four MAC losses were by one goal, two of which came in overtime. 

"We could off beaten any of those teams, we wouldn't have beaten Miami,” Johnstone said. “All the other teams were really close and it’s just details here, a little speed work and skill work and we'll be at that level."

It will take another season or two for Ohio to reach the level of a top-tier MAC team, Johnstone said, such as Miami who reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament this season. 

With only two seniors leaving, Ohio is expected to have a better record next season with Johnstone getting in a full recruiting cycle as Ohio’s coach. 


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