By Blake Moore
ADA — The Ohio Northern women's soccer program earned its 13th successive Ohio Athletic Conference upper-division finish and appeared in the OAC Tournament Finals for the fourth consecutive season to spotlight a strong 2018 campaign for the Polar Bears under 15th-year head coach Mark Batman.
The Orange and Black would finish the campaign having compiled a 14-4-1 overall record and a 7-1-1 mark in Ohio Athletic Conference play, which ranked second in the final league standings. Their 2018 record marks the 15th straight winning season in women's soccer program history.
Due to their efforts during the regular season, ONU entered the OAC Tournament as the second-seeded program and earned a first-round bye. The Polar Bears would edge Mount Union 2-0 in the semifinals after falling to the same team one weekend prior, securing Ohio Northern's fourth successive trip to the championship match. Northern would battle top-seeded Otterbein down to the wire, eventually falling 1-0 in overtime to conclude the season.
During the season, Ohio Northern would also garner recognition on a national stage and rank among the best teams in the country. The Polar Bears would begin the season ranked No. 8 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll and rejoin the listing at No. 23 on October 23 after a brief stint away. Additionally, the program would make appearances on the d3soccer.com national polls throughout the season.
Following their school record 16 shutouts last season, the Ohio Northern defense continued to shine in the 2018 campaign, posting a league-best 13 clean sheets for their encore performance. The Polar Bears also conceded just 0.52 goals per contest, which also led the OAC.
Following the season, the Ohio Athletic Conference honored seven Ohio Northern women's soccer players with all-conference accolades. Junior goalkeeper Meagan Grierson (Miamisburg) and sophomore defender Sydney Leshnak (Liberty Township/Mount Notre Dame) headlined the honorees, earning OAC Goalkeeper of the Year and OAC Defender of the Year kudos, respectively.
Junior midfielder Haley Moses (Mason) and sophomore forward Jenna Fuller (Countryside, Ill./Lyons Township) would join the tandem on the All-OAC First-Team. Additionally, senior forward McKenna Welsh (Westerville/Bishop Hartley), senior midfielder Sarah Puntel (Strongsville), and junior defender Hannah Martin (Mason/Mount Notre Dame) each received Second-Team All-Conference nods for the campaign.
For the third consecutive season, Grierson was tabbed to the All-OAC First-Team and named OAC Goalkeeper of the Year. She would also be named Second-Team All-Great Lakes Region and the OAC Defensive Player of the Week on three separate occasions during the campaign.
On the field, the Miamisburg native started all 19 matches in net, logging 1695 minutes of action. She led the Ohio Athletic Conference with 10 goals conceded, a 0.53 goals against average, and 12 shutouts while also registering 31 saves.
Grierson now ranks as the program's all-time career shutouts leader with 32 clean sheets and sits ninth in career saves with 140. Additionally, she holds the freshman, sophomore, and junior class records in goals against average at the institution.
Leshnak earned her OAC Defender of the Year and All-OAC First-Team honors after anchoring the defensive backline and starting all 19 matches this season. She helped guide the defense to a string of seven consecutive shutouts in 2018, which ties a school record.
The sophomore defender would also be tabbed to the United Soccer Coaches All-Great Lakes Region Second-Team following the season.
In her two-year stint at ONU, Leshnak has been placed on the all-conference teams twice, having been named Honorable Mention as a freshman. She has registered five goals, an assist, and 11 points from her defensive position in her career.
Moses received her third all-conference acknowledgement after garnering Second-Team honors in 2016 and First-Team accolades and OAC Midfielder of the Year honors in 2017. In addition, the junior garnered USC Scholar All-North/All-South Region, CoSIDA Academic All-District First-Team, Academic All-OAC, USC All-Great Lakes Region First-Team, and Academic All-OAC honors this year.
The Mason native has started all 61 career matches at Ohio Northern and racked up eight career goals, five game-winners, 17 assists, and 33 points from the midfield.
This season, Moses paced the Polar Bear offense and ranked fifth in the conference with six assists. She would also finish fourth on the team with 10 points and end in a two-way tie with two game-winning goals.
Fuller, now a two-time all-conference honoree and former OAC Freshman of the Year, registered a conference-best 16 goals and recorded two assists and 34 points during the 2018 season. Her goal total ranks second all-time among sophomores in program history while her team-high point mark sits third among the same group. In addition, the sophomore would contibute seven game-winning goals throughout the year.
The sophomore from Countryside, Illinois went on to earn USC All-Great Lakes Region First-Team, OAC All-Tournament Team, and Academic All-OAC honors in 2018.
Fuller now owns 28 goals, 14 assists, 70 points, and 13 game-winning goals in her two-year career at Ohio Northern.
Welsh received her first all-conference accolade with this year's nomination, adding to an Academic All-OAC nod this season. She garnered the award after finishing second on the team with eight goals, 20 points, and tied for second with four assists.
The Westerville native has started 27 of her 39 career appearances for the Polar Bears. Her career numbers include 15 goals, four assists, 34 points, and four game-winning goals.
Puntel also earned her first all-conference accolade after wrapping up a career that included 62 starts in 77 matches, 15 goals, six assists, and 36 points from the midfield position. She was also tabbed to the OAC All-Tournament Team and Academic All-OAC listings for the campaign.
The Strongsville native would register seven points this season on three goals and an assist. Additionally, she provided the game-winning goal in a tight-knit, 1-0 victory over Capital via a penalty kick back on October 20.
Martin returns to the All-Ohio Athletic Conference award listings for the second time in her career after gaining All-OAC Second-Team honors in 2017. In addition, she would tack on USC All-Great Lakes Region Second-Team honors.
The junior defender joined Leshnak to help contribute to the team's 13 shutouts and also registered two assists during the campaign.
Martin has been a mainstay at the defender position for Ohio Northern throughout the past three seasons, having started all 62 matches. She has additionally tallied three goals and 10 assists for 16 career points.
Off the field, the Polar Bears also excelled in the classroom, boasting a school record 11 Academic All-Conference honorees. Puntel, Welsh, Moses, Fuller and sophomores Megan Breier (Plainfield, Ill./North), Courtney Favazzo (Mayfield Heights/Mayfield), Sammy Lyon (Pataskala/Watkins Memorial), Anne Major (Okemos, Mich.), Abigail Mathews (Liberty Township/Lakota East), Ann McArn (Bay Village/Western Reserve Academy), and Cat Schaefer (Lexington) were each awarded the honor for their academic successes.
Puntel received her third consecutive conference academic award with the honor while Welsh and Moses each earned their second award. Meanwhile, the eight sophomore student-athletes all garnered their first career academic accolade.
Breier, a second-year pharmacy student from Plainfield, Illinois, has appeared in 43 matches with 18 starts for the Orange and Black. Additionally, the forward/midfielder has posted four goals and six assists for 14 career points.
Favazzo, who is also a second-year pharmacy major, has served as a regular substitute for the Polar Bears during her career, having appeared in 42 matches with a pair of starts. She owns two career goals, both serving as game-winners, and four total assists.
Lyon, an exercise physiology student-athlete from Pataskala, made a career-high 11 appearances in 2018. The second-year midfielder/defender has seen playing time in 17 career matches and has recorded two shots.
Major, a sophomore engineering education major, appeared in a career-best 12 contests this year. Overall, the Okemos, Michigan native has competed in 20 career matches and tallied three career goals on 10 total shots.
Mathews, an athletic training major who hails from Liberty Township, has competed in 38 career matches. The sophomore midfielder has tallied 19 starts, three assists, and 22 shots overall.
McArn, an academic junior studying pharmacy in her sophomore athletic season, received her honor following a season where she appeared in two contests. Through two competitive seasons, she has appeared in seven matches and also scored a goal during the 2016 campaign.
Schaefer, a nursing major from Lexington, has appeared in 18 career matches throughout her two-year stint at Ohio Northern. This season, she scored her first career goal in an 11-0 rout of Muskingum and tallied her first assist in the following match at Wilmington.
During the season, Northern would drop their first two matches of the campaign, a 1-0 loss to Hope (Mich.) and a 3-0 decision to No. 23 Illinois Wesleyan. However, The Polar Bears would quickly rebound from their opening weekend results, reeling off 13 consecutive wins that included 12 shutout victories.
ONU would conclude their season with a trip to the OAC Tournament where they fell to top-seeded Otterbein 1-0 in overtime during their fourth consecutive appearance in the championship match.
"Anytime you are competing for conference championships and conference tournament titles, you have had a successful season," head coach Mark Batman stated. "I think our biggest challenge this season was having 18 freshmen and sophomores on our 25-player roster and teaching them how to train, compete, and win games with a relatively young group. With that said, I feel really good about the next several years."
"The graduating seniors have won over 60 matches, only lost four conference games, and advanced to the conference tournament finals and had a team GPA over 3.45 in all four seasons during their careers. From a tradition standpoint, and where I see us heading, we are in a really good place as a program."