The Ohio State women’s soccer team will play in the College Cup for the first time Friday but head coach Lori Walker is no stranger to the championship weekend.
She is the second coach in NCAA history to play in the College Cup and then take a team to the final four. Paula Wilkins was the first, playing for UMass in the 1993 College Cup and then leading Penn State there in 2002.
Walker was the part of the three NCAA championships from 1989-91 for the North Carolina program that included future U.S. National Team standouts Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Carla Overbeck.
“I’m not even worried about that right now,” Walker said as she prepared the Buckeyes (17-4-2) to face Notre Dame (19-2-2) in Cary, N.C.
Experience could be a factor. The Irish have reached the national semifinals five straight years and six of the past seven and won the 2004 College Cup.
While Walker has guided the Buckeyes to six NCAA Tournaments in her 14 seasons in Columbus, they have a 7-5-1 record in the postseason and never made it past the quarterfinals until beating Georgetown 2-0 on Nov. 26.
“There’s an easier mentality for this group to be the underdog,” Walker said of her team. “There were times in the season we were the favorite team and that was more difficult for me to get them prepared and get them in the right mindset.”
The winner faces either Boston College or Stanford in Sunday’s final.
“To be a part of making history is definitely a humbling experience,” Ohio State junior forward Paige Maxwell said.
It has not been an easy route to Cary for the Buckeyes.
They won their first tournament game 1-0 against St. Francis (Pa.) on goal by Danielle Scoliere in the 106th minute. The Buckeyes advanced to the round of 16 by a 4-2 margin on penalty kicks vs. Dayton and reached the quarterfinals by scoring the first three goals, then holding off Virginia 3-2.
“We’ve played in every situation this year that we could possibly be challenged,” senior defender Cassie Dickerson said.
The OSU women are attempting to win the school’s first national title in soccer. In 2007, the men lost the championship match to Wake Forest, 2-1. The Buckeyes squad included former Columbus Crew now Portland Timbers defender Eric Brunner and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza.