It has been a tough year for the Bobcats. Just like many other college sports teams across the country, they went over a year without playing a competitive match.

Ordinarily, following the end of their season in November 2019, Ohio would have said goodbye to its seniors, gotten to work signing incoming freshmen and transfers and prepare for their 2020 season.

However, that all changed in March when Ohio University went virtual following spring break. Due to the rest of the semester being online and NCAA rules prohibiting teams from practicing during most of summer break, Ohio coach Aaron Rodgers was not able to coach his team in person until August, when athletes returned to campus.

“We were just very grateful that we were able to bring the players back to campus (in August), to be able to train,” said Rodgers.

When the Mid-American Conference announced that fall sports weren’t able to play their seasons on time, there was a lot of uncertainty about what a season would look like. However, when the MAC announced fall sports were rescheduled for the spring, the Bobcats were just happy to know when they would be playing.

“We were excited and grateful to have some type of competitive season,” said Rodgers. “The last competitive game we played was November 2019 in the MAC semifinal.”

Even though the Bobcats were able to return to practice and matches again, the offseason was unlike any other.

Under normal circumstances, the team trains throughout the school year and the players would play on club teams during the summer, only to reassemble at the beginning of August.

“We didn’t bring the players back until school started, because it wasn’t necessary,” said Rodgers. “We were able to train in the fall, but it was more geared toward the players' mental health and wellbeing.”

To go more than a year without a match is difficult for any team, but it was especially hard for the Bobcats, who were going through somewhat of a transition year after losing three important seniors in defender Victoria Breeden, midfielder Alivia Milesky, and defender Sydney Leckie. Ohio needed players to step up, and plenty did just that.

“We have some leaders on the team,” said Rodgers. “Abby Townsend, Olivia Sensky and Jenni Santacaterina have always been a part of our leadership group, and they’re continuing to do that.”

Abby Townsend (#16) competes for possession of the ball during the Ohio University home game at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio, on March 4, 2021. The Bobcats lost to the Redhawks 0-1. (FILE)

Townsend and Sensky in particular have stepped up on the field in addition to their roles off the field. Sensky leads a defense that has given up just two goals over the first three matches, with one of them being scored by defending MAC champions Bowling Green in an overtime loss. Her role in distributing the ball is crucial to the Bobcats as well, and her calm demeanor in possession is key for the Bobcats.

Even more important for Ohio, however, is Townsend. The junior had the second-most points on the team in 2019, and she broke out against Akron despite battling minor injuries in the beginning of the season.

So far this season, the Bobcats have improved match by match. They show both talent and how hard it is to come back after a long layoff. Training can only do so much to prepare a team for the regular season. But as they get their legs under them, the Bobcats should continue to improve.

“It’s one thing to train and push each other as teammates, but it’s another thing to compete against another team,” said Rodgers.

In watching the team play, it is clear how excited the players are to be back on the field. This was never more apparent than when they celebrated goals by freshman Izzy Boyd and Shae Robertson against Akron.

If their game last weekend against the Zips was any indication, the Bobcats are a team heading in the right direction. Rodgers’ ability to lead them through a difficult offseason and come out the other side looking like a team on the rise shows that Ohio will be a program to be reckoned with.