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Highly successful 2021 sets women’s soccer up for bright future

By Wes Mayberry,

As winners of three of the past five Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament championships and six NCAA Tournament games dating back to 2017, the Ohio Northern women's soccer team has proven itself as a force to be reckoned with.

The 2021 season was no exception for the Polar Bears, as they won the OAC Tournament title and got a 2-0 victory over Hope (Mich.) in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament en route to finishing 14-5-3 on the year by outscoring opponents 31-15 with 14 shutouts and two separate five-game win streaks.

"This was a big growing year for the group since we were very young, but we had some really good senior leadership," said 18th-year head coach Mark Batman, who earned the OAC Coach of the Year award for the third time in his career this season. "Our September schedule was designed to be really, really difficult to hopefully mature our group faster, and it paid off for us in October."

After going 4-3-2 against non-conference foes in September, ONU opened its 2021 conference slate in October with five straight shutout victories by a combined score of 11-0 en route to finishing 7-1-1 in the OAC.

"The OAC is tough, so you have to be at your best every single day," Batman said. "I'm super happy that the group didn't allow one day to define the season for us. I was really happy with how October went."

Even more impressive is that all seven of the team's conference victories were shutouts.

"Defense is something that we stress from the front group all the way to the back," Batman said. "It's a collective group effort."

The Polar Bears entered the OAC Tournament as the No. 2 seed behind defending tournament champ Otterbein. Junior midfielder Lauren Naso (Grosse Ile, Mich.) scored both of ONU's goals, including the game-winner with 2:54 left in double overtime, in a 2-1 victory over Capital in the tournament semifinals to advance to the championship game at Otterbein.

In a rematch of the 2020 tournament championship game in which Otterbein notched the only goal the Polar Bears allowed in the entirety of that season, Northern avenged that defeat with a 1-0 victory of its own courtesy of a goal from sophomore midfielder Alaina Casey (Beavercreek/Carroll).

"I was really happy and excited for our group to win the championship on the road," Batman said. "At that moment, they understood how good they could be looking ahead to the next couple years. That was huge, especially for our younger players, because it's important that they go through those moments so they have something for the future as far as remembering what that felt like."

The Polar Bears' fourth OAC title in program history earned them an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament where they defeated Hope (Mich.) before their season came to an end in the second round with a 2-0 loss at Case Western Reserve, which closed the season ranked No. 12 nationally by United Soccer Coaches.

"Our NCAA run was great for the growth of our program. Beating Hope by two goals is something not very many teams do, so that was a very good win, and we played really well," Batman said. "It would've been really tough to get past Case — that was the best Case team in a decade. Having injuries and illnesses pop up at the worst possible time made that game really difficult, but we still competed really well and had chances to score goals."

A bevy of talented players were responsible for the Polar Bears' success this season. At the top of that list is senior defender Carissa Beckham (Mason/Mount Notre Dame), who was selected to the United Soccer Coaches NCAA Division III Women's All-America Third Team. Beckham, who was also named to the United Soccer Coaches All-Region 7 First Team and All-OAC First Team, is the sixth player to earn All-American status in the history of ONU women's soccer. A three-year starter and three-time All-OAC honoree, Beckham was part of a Polar Bear defense that limited opponents to just 0.68 goals per game in 2021, and she earned a spot on the All-OAC Tournament Team and was a First Team selection for All-Ohio and Academic All-Ohio by the Ohio Collegiate Soccer Association.

"Carissa is awesome," Batman said. "She has earned everything that she has gotten. She's one of the hardest-working kids that we have, and I'm really proud of what she has done and of her growth as a young woman and student-athlete over her four years here."

Joining Beckham as a United Soccer Coaches All-Region 7 selection were senior goalkeeper Kristy Catrine (Springboro), freshman midfielder Alyssa Beckett (Monroe) and sophomore defender Bri Straus (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern).

Catrine, who was named First Team All-OAC and the conference's Goalkeeper of the Year for the second straight season, was a three-time OAC Player of the Week selection and an All-OAC Tournament honoree in 2021. The All-Ohio and Academic All-Ohio First Team selection started all 22 games for the Polar Bears this season, allowing 15 goals and posting 13 shutouts while tallying 74 saves, an .831 save percentage and a 0.67 GAA. Her 13 shutouts are tied for second-most in a season in program history, and her 21 career shutouts are fifth-most on the program's all-time leaderboard. The 0.67 GAA is the sixth-best season-long mark in program history on a list she tops with her 0.09 GAA from 2020. Catrine boasts a career record of 22-6-5 with 105 saves, 0.47 GAA and .868 save percentage in 33 games, including 32 starts.

"Kristy is an unbelievable leader," Batman said. "Being Goalkeeper of the Year two times in only two years of competing is pretty special, and she definitely deserves that recognition."

Beckett, a First Team All-OAC and Second Team All-Region selection, ranked third on the team in goals (4) and points (10) this season while adding two assists. She provided one of the team's offensive highlights of the year with a hat trick in a 3-3 draw with Capital on Oct. 23.

Straus, a Second Team All-OAC and Third Team All-Region selection, joined Beckham as another key member of the stingy ONU defense this season. The two-time All-Conference honoree has started all 32 games she has played during her ONU career and tallied one assist in 21 starts this season.

Straus and Beckett were both named to the All-Ohio Second Team.

"Bri and Alyssa are two really bright young players for us," Batman said. "I'm excited to see where they go from here."

Naso, senior midfielder Tara Morris (Monroe), sophomore defender Kylie Cabana (Dexter, Mich.), sophomore forward Jill Roberts (Bellbrook/Carroll) and freshman midfielder Emma Bowman (Novi, Mich./Northville) were also among the ranks of Polar Bears to earn recognition from the conference this season.

Naso, an All-OAC Tournament honoree, joined Roberts on the All-OAC Second Team after both players started all 22 of ONU's games. She tallied three goals and two assists for eight points this season and was named to the Academic All-Ohio First Team. Roberts finished with a team-high 15 points, tied for the team lead in goals with six and tied for second on the team with three assists en route to being named to the All-Ohio Third Team.

Cabana and Morris were both All-OAC Third Team selections. Morris finished with two goals and two assists for six points while Cabana tied Roberts for second on the team with three assists to go with one goal, giving her five points.

Bowman, an All-OAC Tournament selection, started all 20 games in which she played and notched a team-high four assists along with one goal for a total of six points.

Other top contributors included Casey, freshman forward Elizabeth Pierce (Liberty Township/Mount Notre Dame) and junior forward Cienna Kuhn (Elida).

Casey tied Roberts for the team lead in goals with six and ranked second in points with 14 despite getting just one start in the 20 games she played. Pierce and Kuhn notched three goals each and finished with eight and six points, respectively.

Other players who saw action in 15-plus games included senior Maggie Ohmer (Milford), juniors Hailey McGuire (Lone Tree, Colo./Highlands Ranch) and Jane Reiring (Cincinnati/Country Day), sophomores Kylie Brown (Jamestown, N.Y./Southwestern Central) and Kate Helton (Beavercreek) and freshmen Alexa Clampitt (Sterling Heights, Mich./Utica) and Jess Gast (Perrysburg).

The Polar Bears were highly successful off the field as well, as 13 players earned Academic All-OAC accolades. That list included seniors Beckham, Catrine and Ohmer; juniors Kuhn, McGuire, Naso and Allison Contenza (Rocky River); and sophomores Cabana, Casey, Roberts, Straus, Madeline Hall (Lewis Center/Olentangy) and Jenna Sitarski (Cincinnati/Lakota West).

Beckham, Catrine and Ohmer are now three-time Academic All-OAC selections, and Contenza, Kuhn, McGuire and Naso are two-time winners of the award.

With just four seniors on the roster this season, the Polar Bears have the benefit of returning the majority of their players in 2022. Add that to assistant coach Sierra Perry going into her second year with the program, and Batman likes the position his team is in.

"Sierra joining us has been great. She provides a completely different perspective on things, and I'm excited to see how she grows from here," Batman said. "The program is in a great place. We're only graduating four, and we have a really talented group coming in."