BEREA, Ohio – After battling back from a two-goal deficit to tie Grove City (Pa.) College 2-2 in double overtime to wrap up non-conference play, the Baldwin Wallace University men's soccer team is preparing to face the gauntlet of Ohio Athletic Conference teams for the rest of the season.
The Yellow Jackets (4-5-1) got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season but have started to hit their stride over the past two weeks as non-conference play came to a close.
"My feel in September is to play a competitive schedule," Head Coach Reid Ayers said. "When you're playing a competitive schedule, it's not going to be easy to go out and get wins. There's a couple games we could have pulled out that we just didn't get the right play in the right moment but, overall, I think the play has gotten better."
A 3-2 double-overtime victory over the College of Wooster proved to be a turning point in the season. After a gut-wrenching loss to Allegheny (Pa.) College in the final seconds just two days earlier, the team bounced back from a first-half deficit to tie the game up with 16 minutes left. Sophomore All-OAC forward Danny Ruple (Berea/Berea-Midpark) scored the golden goal 38 seconds into the second overtime period.
"The kids showed a lot of grit," Ayers said about the Wooster game. "They fought and scratched their way back into the game. That was a turning point for us. That gave our guys a little bit of confidence and belief, and that was huge for us."
Playing in the OAC this season will prove to be a difficult task for any team as four conference teams are regionally ranked in the National Soccer Coaches Association weekly poll.
"There is just a ton of quality top to bottom," Ayers said. "I think that's the biggest challenge of playing in the OAC is that there's no give-mes, no cream puffs. Every single game, there is no break. If you don't play well in this conference, you will lose. That's the part that is kind of fun but also very daunting."
The Yellow Jackets are excited for the challenge that conference play presents and have to remain consistent and focused for 90 minutes from game to game in order to play to their standard.
"It's the highlight of the year for everyone to get into conference play so with that excitement comes more emotion, more pressure," Ayers said. "We have to be able to effect pressure on the game and take away opportunities. A lot of times our defense sets our offense. If the defense is gelling and jiving, I think that'll, by nature, give us a more effective offense. The better we are in the back half, the better our chance is to win."
Conference play will open up on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m. when the Yellow Jackets play host to Marietta College before hitting the road to take on the University of Mount Union on Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m.