By Bud Denega
ADA — It certainly isn't easy, and that's why not many teams have accomplished it. The 2019 Ohio Northern women's soccer team won both the Ohio Athletic Conference regular-season title and tournament crown with an unblemished record, a feat only accomplished six other times in conference history.
"It's so hard," ONU head coach Mark Batman said. "… It proves you can win. It proves you can win on the road. It proves you can play through bad weather and get results. It proves you can play through multiple players being injured and get results. When the conference tournament rolls around, you're trying to beat teams you've already beaten, and that's always a true test of teams' preparation."
That conference dominance — an 11-0-0 record — included a road 2-1 win at then-No. 17 Otterbein and another 2-1 victory over the Cardinals in the OAC Tournament Championship match. The Polar Bears' regular-season slate saw them take on multiple nationally-ranked foes, and Northern's navigation of its tough schedule earned it a couple home matches during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
ONU downed Grove City (Pa.) 2-0 in the opening round before edging Scranton (Pa.) in penalty kicks to punch its ticket to the school's second-ever Sweet 16. The Polar Bears' run came to close in the third round, as they fell to Carnegie Mellon (Pa.) 3-0 in a match played at Wheaton College (Ill.).
Northern finished with an 18-3-3 overall mark and ranked No. 19 in the country. That included a 14-game win streak and a 15-game unbeaten streak, which ties a school record.
ONU was stacked with many special players and several of them were recognized for an outstanding 2019 performance. Junior Jenna Fuller (Countryside, Ill./Lyons Township) was named a first-team All-American and Scholar All-American by the United Soccer Coaches. She also reeled in first-team All Great Lakes Region accolades and OAC Forward of the Year honors among others.
"Her development has never been scoring goals," Batman said. "Jenna's development this year has been maturation and being big in big moments. She was huge in big games. … It has been rewarding to watch her development, and I'm excited to see what happens with her."
Frankly put, Fuller had the most outstanding offensive performance in Batman's 16 years at the helm. Her 20 goals in 2019 were tied for the third most in a single season in school history and the most since 1997. The 20 goals were also tied for the most by any junior at ONU. Fuller's 48 career goals ranks her fourth all-time in school history, and her 113 points are sixth all-time.
Senior Haley Moses (Mason) made third-team All-America — and second-team Scholar All-America — after logging three goals and three assists from her midfield position. She was also named first-team All-Great Lakes Region. Moses finished with 20 career assists and that tied her for ninth all-time in program history.
Senior goaltender Meagan Grierson (Dayton/Miamisburg) made OAC history. She became the first player ever to win the OAC Goaltender of the Year award four straight years.
"She's unbelievable," Batman said. "She's a tough one to lose, for sure. I'm really proud of her, and really proud of what she's done. Her and I have a love-hate relationship, and it's just special."
Grierson logged a career-best 70 saves this season. That gave her 210 for her career, which ranks sixth in school history.
Grierson — who was also a Great Lakes Region first-team selection — boasted a conference-best 12 shut outs, and that gave her 44 for her career, and that's tops in program history.
Junior Sydney Leshnak (Cincinnati/Mount Notre Dame) garnered OAC Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive season, while also being named first-team All-Great Lakes Region. She netted three goals and had four assists.
Senior Rose Nienaber (Cincinnati/Oak Hills) also reeled in first-team All-OAC and first-team All-Great Lakes Region recognition. She recorded nine goals — second best on the team — and eight assists, which gave her 21 for her career and that's tied for seventh in school history.
Junior Megan Breier (Plainfield, Ill./North) and sophomore Carissa Beckham (Mason/Mount Notre Dame) earned second-team All-OAC recognition, while freshman Jerzy Zito (Maumee/Anthony Wayne) garnered honorable mention All-OAC.
With many of the aforementioned players returning next season, Batman — who was named OAC Coach of the Year for the second time in his career — can't help but be excited for what the future holds.
"It's exciting. The program is in a good place," Batman said. "I feel as though the girls that are graduating helped put us back to where I felt where we were slowing getting to in 2012-13."