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Ohio University first-year, Ellie Greenwall (31), fights off a Kent State player for the ball at Chessa Field in Athens, Ohio, Sept. 21, 2023.

Soccer: Ohio's falls short in NCAA tournament against Michigan State

Ohio will ultimately leave East Lansing, Michigan, in disappointment. After a 3-0 loss, in which the Bobcats struggled to surmount anything on offense, the incredible 2023 season has officially come to a close. 

Despite the unfortunate outcome against Michigan State on Friday night, Ohio's players should keep their heads held high, according to Head Coach Aaron Rodgers. 

“We just told them (the team) to keep their head held up high,” Rodgers said. “The run and the journey that they’ve been on these last two and a half weeks has been unbelievable. I think they have created an unbelievable memory for themselves and for each other.”

It was a long and improbable run that brought the Bobcats to East Lansing for their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. Ohio just barely made the Mid-American Conference tournament as the No. 6 seed. Playing as an underdog in every single match of the MAC tournament, Ohio found a way to win its first-ever MAC title. 

Against Michigan State, Ohio was unable to pull off what would have been the biggest upset of the season. 

“The players that they have in the attacking positions are so dynamic and so athletic,” Rodgers said. “I think we were a little bit nervous, rightfully so. I think we just weren’t as confident to play out, and we wanted to play out because that’s how we play.”

Within the first five minutes of the game, Ohio already saw its first deficit of the game. Michigan State was able to quickly move the ball down the field to threaten the Ohio defense. It appeared as if Ohio was able to clear the ball out of a swarm of players around the box; however, a whistle blew and Ohio defender Ella Bianco was called with a handball in the box, ultimately leading to a penalty kick. 

Bella Najera stepped into the box to attempt the kick. One-on-one with Ohio goalkeeper Celeste Sloma, Najera lined the ball off the crossbar and into the back of the net beyond the outstretched hands of Sloma. Ohio trailed just 2:24 into the game. 

After the Spartan goal, Ohio seemed to find the smallest bit of cohesion on offense that it had been lacking in the opening minutes. 

Let by forward Scout Murray, Ohio was able to move the ball into enemy territory. Ohio struggled to move the ball past a staunch Michigan State defense. Even when Ohio was able to find holes in the Michigan State defense, Michigan State goalkeeper Kaitlyn Parks, being one of the best in the Big Ten conference, did not concede a goal. 

As soon as it seemed like Ohio was going to make the match competitive on offense, a ball off the foot of Michigan State's Justina Gaynor found its way past Sloma to make it 2-0. 

Sloma, despite allowing three goals, was a highlight for Ohio on Friday. The sophomore goalkeeper tallied 10 saves, including several acrobatic stops at the start of the first half to keep Ohio in the game. 

Coming out for the second half, the Ohio defense seemed to slow down Michigan State. The Bobcats were able to maintain possession of the ball more than they were in the first half but it was to no avail. 

In the 76th minute, Najera was able to put her second goal of the game past Sloma. By this point in the game, down 3-0 with under 15 minutes to play, Ohio’s chances were slim to none. 

The Bobcats kept the pressure on until the final whistle, much like they did throughout the final two weeks of the regular season. Against Michigan State, it just wasn’t enough. 

“We were outside looking in on even the MAC tournament two and a half weeks ago,” Rodgers said. “For us to pull together and never give up and to make every minute and every second count is such a credit to these wonderful women inside our program. I told them that they can do nothing but hold their heads up high walking off the field tonight.”


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