Bobcats Soccer Takes MAC Opener

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Lani Smith fought her way into the box before realizing that there were no Bobcats’ defenders to stop her run and looking at a wide open goal. What the Akron Zip neglected to see was Ohio senior goalkeeper Nicole Amari sprinting off her line.

Amari dove in front of Smith right after the Akron forward released a shot, and watched the ball bounce back into play and away from the Ohio goal.

That save was one of four that Amari pushed away from goal and her offense rewarded her, as three Bobcats were on target on Friday as Ohio began Mid-American Conference play with a 3-1 victory over Akron at Chessa Field.

“This is a new chapter to Ohio soccer,” Ohio coach Aaron Rodgers said. “Every book has a lot of chapters in it, some better than others. And this is a very long book.

“This is a new chapter and this is going to be a great chapter.”

The Bobcats (4-5, 1-0) began the match in typical fashion, dominating midfield play and pushing midfielders and outside defenders up the field in an effort to spark some offense.

It was an explosive start to the game as both teams looked to open up each other’s defense within the first five minutes.

It seemed that Ohio would be the first ones on the board after junior Leah Sandercock surprised everyone on the field after dribbling to the top of the box and unleashing a curling shot that evaded Akron’s (4-4-1, 0-1) goalkeeper. But the ball only found the bottom of the crossbar and rolled out across the end line for a corner.

And the Bobcats capitalized on it, as a junior Tonya Frasik found sophomore Alexis Milesky for what appeared to be her fourth goal of the season, but was ruled an own goal to put Ohio up 1-0 in the sixth minute.

“Good things happen when you put the ball towards the goal,” Rodgers said. 

It didn’t take the Zips long to recover and redeem themselves, as Akron took advantage of a momentary lapse in the Bobcats’ defensive line to equalize in the 15th minute.

The ball hit off the post, evading senior goalkeeper Nicole Amari and finding Akron’s most dangerous player, Lani Smith, for the easy tap in to the open net.

Ohio would regain the lead, for good this time, in the 16th minute after a quick break from the Bobcats led to a corner for Ohio. Frasik pulled the strings again and this time found senior Annie Beard for a header into the far corner of the net.

Ohio looked the aggressor for the rest of the game, interchanging quick, short passes and finding holes in the Zips’ defense. Ohio coach Aaron Rodgers decided to inject some youth into the team after establishing the lead, and the decision would pay off late in the first half.

“I have a lot of confidence in the young people,” Rodgers said. “And I wanted to give them MAC action. Because it’s a different level, a different intensity level and I wanted to get them in.”

Freshman Allie Curry had looked solid all game, disrupting the Zips offense in their defensive third and cutting into the box to test Akron’s goalkeeper. The Fairfield, Ohio, native truly shined when she fired a shot off an Akron defender and over the Zips’ goalkeeper for the third goal.

“[The game] was a lot of fun and to be able to score in it was even better,” Curry said. “I’m glad that we went up 3-1 on them and got a win.

“We came out ready to go today.”

Ohio showed renewed offensive strength after its rough outing against Dayton. Much of the build-up and forward play was created by the freshman who Rodgers inserted into the team.

Among them, Curry, Hannah Jaggers, Megan Niebuhr, Celeste Fushimi-Karns and Kelley Zebrowski saw the most time, and tormented the Zips’ defense all afternoon. 

“[Starting with a win] is huge," Rodgers said. "[It] helps us achieve our goals and puts us one step closer to achieving our goals."