Oakland women’s soccer looking to get back on top

The Oakland University women’s soccer team found itself in an unfamiliar position at the end of last season.  A 2-1 loss to Western Illinois on the final day of the regular season left the Golden Grizzlies off the Summit League Tournament bracket.

The loss and the subsequent 7-9-1 record (4-4-1 Summit League) ended Oakland’s streak of Summit League Tournament appearances at 10.

“Being in that spot last year, not making it in (the tournament), it was a very difficult situation and I never, ever want to experience that again,” said senior Dani Haelewyn, one of the team captains. “That’s the main motivation — I never want to experience what we had to go through last year.”

The Grizzlies’ subpar 2009 season has them ranked fourth in the conference — as opposed to first or second in past years — by the 2010 Summit League women’s soccer preseason poll.

“We’ve been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 as long as I’ve known, and to be ranked fourth is kind of a slap in the face,” said junior Jessica Conrad, another team captain. “But it does show that we can come out and be competitive and people won’t expect it. Don’t underestimate Oakland.”


Joining the team in 2010 are 10 freshmen, including four from Canada and one from Australia.

With just five seniors on the roster this season, the team’s youth, and perceived inexperience, could be a reason for the lower ranking.

“I don’t put a whole lot of stock into rankings, because they’re trying to figure out and trying to guess how people are going to return from the previous year, how players are going to impact the season, things like that,” head coach Nick O’Shea said. “It’s a guessing game when you rank that early before you’ve even seen the team.”

Another reason O’Shea doesn’t follow the rankings too closely is because several key players were hurt throughout the preseason, including Haelewyn and Conrad. Despite their injuries, he says that both are helping their younger teammates while recovering.

Conrad is confident that her team will be ready to return to its former No. 1 ranking once they are fully healthy.

“We have a really deep bench, a lot of talent on both sides of the field,” Conrad said. “Even with injuries, we still have a lot of depth at most positions. With everyone at their full health, it’s almost like we have two great lineups, and even when we do play the starting lineup against the non-starters, it’s a battle.”

New playing field

Soccer fans unable to attend games last season because of early start times will be in luck this season, as the team will play three “home” games at the Ultimate Soccer Arena in Pontiac.

In-state rival University of Detroit will play Oakland Sept. 12, North Dakota State visits Oct. 1, and defending Summit League champion IUPUI will be in Pontiac for an Oct. 22 meeting.

“What I like about Ultimate is that we can get night-time games so fans can get there,” O’Shea said. “The problem with our facility — while it’s a great facility — is that it doesn’t have lights, so we can’t play late games. Most of our games kick off at 4 p.m. on a weekday or 1 p.m. on a Sunday, and a lot of people have a lot of things going on at those times.”

Home games at the OU soccer field dominate the team’s 2010 schedule, as the team faces off against in-state opponents Michigan (Sept. 3) and Michigan State (Oct. 14), as well as Dayton (Sept. 5), Youngstown State (Sept. 17), and Massachusetts (Sept. 9).

The team that knocked the Grizzlies out of postseason contention last season, Western Illinois, makes a trip to OU Oct. 24.

“The rest of the top five teams this year (IUPUI, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Western Illinois), we have them at home this year … we were on the road against all of them last year,” O’Shea said of the favorable schedule. “We’re hoping to focus on our home games in the conference and take care of business there.”

Opening games

Oakland is off to a tough start, going 1-4 through the first five games of the year. The Grizzlies won their opener, a 16-0 thumping of Rochester College, before being shutout for four consecutive games. Oakland lost games to Western Michigan, Pittsburgh, Michigan and Dayton.

Despite the early losses, Oakland has yet to play a game against a Summit Leauge opponent and the Grizzlies have three consecutive home games to get back on track before their first league match against South Dakota State Oct. 1.

“Last year was the first year we didn’t make the postseason tournament for the league, so we’re pretty anxious, pretty excited to see if we can get back into it and see how we can do in the league,” O’Shea said. “With it being the first time in, gosh, 10 years that we haven’t been in it, we didn’t like it. The coaching staff is definitely geared up for it and the players are ready to get after it.”

Oakland’s next game is against the University of Detroit at the Pontiac Ultimate Soccer Arena Sept. 12.