Ohio played its first regular season match at a sunny Pruitt Field on Sunday, beating California 3-1. The match was a struggle for both sides to gain any sort of edge, but Ohio turned to veteran experience as well as its newer players in order to capture the victory at home.
The match started out with both teams unable to gain any sort of ground. However, Ohio was able to get quality shots on the net that allowed it to control the pace of play heading into the second quarter and gave it a new burst of energy.
Much like the first, the second quarter was uneventful. With a scoreless match going into the second half, both teams appeared ready for a battle down the stretch.
However, the defensive standoff would not continue past the third quarter. Just 16 seconds into the second half, Katelyn Whittle, the top returning scorer for Ohio, found freshman Mijntje Ligtenberg for the first goal of the afternoon.
"Mijntje is really really handy,” head coach Ali Johnstone said. “She showed that today.”
As the Bobcats took the lead early in the third, the Golden Bears responded with a huge push to even the score. They continued to chip away at goalkeeper Nele Graner until they were able to push past her for a goal eight minutes into the quarter.
Despite tying up the match, California wasn’t done and continued to pressure Ohio’s defense. Luckily for Ohio, it escaped the third quarter without letting California score again.
Even though it only scored one goal, the third quarter was dominated by California. It took 10 shots on goal, but Graner came up with three key saves in the third. If it were not for a superb effort by Graner to go full extension for saves, the entire match would have been different.
Not only did she battle against constant pressure on the net, but Graner also battled against the heat.
“You’ve got to stay in the game," Graner said. "You can’t let the heat get to your head.”
The efforts of Graner would have been for nothing had the Bobcats not taken the lead again in the fourth quarter. Their offense exploded off the first touch of the quarter, creating a series of penalty corners that eventually resulted in the go-ahead goal, scored by freshman Anouk Plaehn.
The unassisted strike came off a mad scramble and deflection from California’s Cato Knipping, one of the country’s best goalkeepers in 2021. Her five shutout matches last season were tied for the most in the country, so taking advantage of open nets against Knipping is key.
The Golden Bears had another offensive push toward the end of the match, but a goal by Meela Koop in the final minutes sealed the match for the Bobcats.
When the final buzzer went off, Ohio was able to breathe. Going into the season, there were numerous questions about how Ohio would fare against its non-conference opponents, but for now, it’s facing those questions head-on and with a stark level of success.
Even though the Bobcats are without some key contributors who graduated last year, they added seven freshmen who will be paramount to success in 2022 and beyond.
One of these players is freshman Sasha Dikotla, who put her skillset on full display early in the match Sunday. As a newcomer hailing from South Africa, it was unknown how she would play. However, Dikotla impressed with quickness and urgency, giving Ohio a spark.
“(We’re) just trying to give (younger players) the freedom to use their super strengths in the areas that they can,” Johnstone said.