Sam Wexell has never shied away from pressure. She wanted to be a goalkeeper since she first stepped on the pitch as a child. Now in her senior season at Ohio, Wexell is the defensive anchor for an Ohio team poised to make a deep run in the postseason.
The Irwin, Pennsylvania, native doesn’t give herself much credit, but she has been vital to Ohio’s near-undefeated conference record this season. The senior was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Week twice in three weeks and has also earned nine shutouts this season. Those nine shutouts are the second-most in a single season by any Ohio player in program history.
“I try not to really pay attention to that,“ Wexell said. “As nice as it is to get a shutout, as long as we win, that’s what I care about most. But sometimes, if we don't get a shutout, I feel like … I'm not fully contributing. It also is a weird feeling because I get credit for the shutout, but it's really all 11 of us. It really is like we played defense with 11 people and especially the back four in front of me.”
Ohio has the best goals against average in the MAC, and Wexell plays a large part in that success. She recorded six saves in three consecutive matches and has made at least three saves in 13 matches this season. The goalkeeper credits the actions of her teammates on defense as a major factor in her dominance.
Defense is just one aspect of Ohio’s game it has been able to turn around from last season. Wexell says 2021 feels different compared to others, as a result of both the COVID-19 pandemic rescheduling last season to spring and Ohio shifting around its playstyle.
“Last year, we were transitioning to a new formation, which takes a lot of time because no matter how much you practice it, there are so many different situations in a soccer game where everybody needs to know where to be,” Wexell said. “I don't know if we expected as much success as we have had this year, but I think we were just really determined to not feel that way again. Like at the end of last season, we were playing for nothing really … That’s just a terrible feeling.”
Ohio was defeated by only one conference opponent this season and cruised past much of its opposition to secure the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament. With Ohio’s first match in the tournament looming, Wexell is experiencing a mix of emotions.
“I would say excitement,“ Wexell said. “I'm trying to stay away from nervousness, but I felt like, last year, I would get nervous for games a lot. So, even if I do, I try to just push it out and be excited. It's hard to be nervous when the people in front of you are playing so well. I feel like my job is pretty easy.”
Wexell is motivated to improve by the fear of letting her teammates down. A potential lapse in judgement that erases her team’s work is what drives her to perfect her craft. It also lends her toward superstition. Wexell claims she touches both goalposts as a pre-match ritual.
“You always want to go into a game respecting your opponent for sure,“ Wexell said. “I think, last season, we had some troubles mentally coming into games. Every game that we play, we say this is the best team that we've ever played.”
The Bobcats will carry that mentality into the MAC Tournament. But regardless of how their run in the tournament ends, they can count on Wexell to dominate in the goalposts.