By all accounts, this was a weird season for the Bobcats.
Instead of a normal season schedule where it plays 20 matches from August to November, Ohio was limited to a shortened 10-match spring campaign. The spring season featured two matches against each team in the Mid-American Conference East instead of one match against every MAC opponent.
The format of the postseason was also dramatically altered to accommodate the shortened regular season. The normal eight-game MAC Tournament was replaced with a single championship game, and only the top team in each division was selected.
Spring 2021 was a strange transition for the Bobcats, who have been tournament regulars over the previous few seasons, but now, they were without the seasonal goal of competing in the MAC Tournament.
Losing two of its most important players from 2019 didn’t help Ohio’s case much. Midfielder Alivia Milesky and forward Sydney Leckie combined to score one-third of the team’s goals in 2019 but were lost to graduation. The Bobcats also lost a leader in Milesky. Without Milesky’s command on the field, the Bobcats came up short in a number of close games this year.
Ohio finished the year 3-7, well out of contention for the MAC Championship game, but its season could have ended much differently. Five of its seven losses came by just one goal, and two games were dropped in overtime. As the Bobcats get older, the ability to close out tight matches will come more naturally, and they should expect to be back in the MAC Tournament next season.
Ohio coach Aaron Rodgers’ ability to bring in talented players to the program showed once again this season. Ohio received major contributions from freshmen Izzi Boyd, Shae Robertson and Carsyn Prigge. With another strong freshman class coming in next year and the current underclassmen becoming used to Ohio’s system, there are plenty of reasons for the Bobcats to be optimistic.
Even players who weren’t expected to contribute as much this season were key to some of Ohio’s wins. Junior defender Olivia Sensky led a defense that conceded just 13 goals in 10 matches and was instrumental in the Bobcats’ three wins.
Junior forward Abby Townsend was Ohio’s best player this season, and despite the team’s finishing struggles, Townsend looked every bit like the player she was last season. As the team falls into place around her next year, she should be able to recreate the type of season she had in 2019, when she recorded five goals and 12 assists.
Senior goalkeeper Sydney Malham also looked good for the Bobcats until she went down near the end of the season with a broken finger, earning MAC East Defensive Player of the Week honors after a shutout against Miami. After Malham’s injury, junior Sam Wexell and sophomore Reese Dorsey shared time goaltending and both put up strong performances.
With Malham leaving the program, Ohio’s biggest question for next season will be who starts in goal. Wexell and Dorsey both gave strong performances this season, and any players new to the program will be competing for minutes alongside them. Rodgers believes there will be a healthy competition for the starting spot, and that will be good for Ohio.
The Bobcats face a short offseason, as they will return to play for a normal fall season in just four months. Despite a disappointing record this season, Ohio has a strong case to return to its place as consistent tournament attendees next season. Rodgers has shown he can bring in the talent necessary to keep Ohio competitive, and there is no reason to believe that next year will be any different.