In some respects, the Bloomsburg women’s soccer team gave people nothing to write about in 2018.
The Huskies ranked sixth in Division II – out of nearly 260 teams – in shutout percentage, blanking opponents 15 times in 23 games.
“We had a fantastic goalkeeping corps,” credited BU head coach Matt Haney. “We want (our defensive backs) to be very athletic people and that’s where Jess Milligan fits in.”
When a defense posts plenty of nuthin’, winning games becomes much easier. The Huskies, picked eighth in the preseason PSAC poll, instead won the conference for the first time since 2002. The rock solid defense, ranking ninth nationally in fewest goals allowed per game, yielded a 17-3-3 record and a berth in the NCAA Elite Eight.
“Our two center backs cut very good defensive shape, so they knew how to position themselves if one of our outside backs got beat for whatever reason,” explained Milligan, a senior. “They were always there, and it was vice versa: Our outside backs would always get back if our centers got beat. If we saw the ball coming through, one would step through, three would drop and we would grab it and go up the field.”
Pennridge’s Milligan and CB East’s Kate Schlotter, a sophomore, started every Husky match. Milligan scored twice last fall; Schlotter scored once. Both players tallied an assist.
“It’s a lot of communication. I play center mid and that position took a lot of getting used to,” Schlotter noted. “There are a lot of people talking to you throughout the game. But there is that heightened level of making sure you’re in the correct spot. We all worked together to make sure that we collectively defended.”
“Jess started every match for us at right back,” Haney said. “She is very strong in the air. She is a super athletic kid and she is a danger going forward. We brought Kate in as a freshman. She played in the center of our park and added to our depth there. She was a very important part of what we do in keeping possession of the ball and being able to switch the fields.”
“It wasn’t an easy transition but I came in knowing that. Coach Haney is a great recruiter and great coach. He let every freshman know that fitness is very important,” Schlotter remembered. “I took that to heart and that made it easier.”
Milligan felt a special year brewing during the preseason. “You can tell a lot about a team based on how they come into a season,” Milligan feels. “The entire team was fit. We knew how to play with each other. Coach Haney didn’t have to worry about us getting into shape and getting the new girls into the swing of things because we were there with open arms when they came in.”
BU started the year 4-2-1 before upsetting then No. 5 West Chester 1-0. That win marked the second contest in an eventual 16-game unbeaten streak. “After that, it continued to grow with each game,” Haney recalled. “We found a way to win here and found a way to win there. We also had five people lost with season injuries. As these people went down, new people stepped up into their roles and we went with that ‘Next Woman Up’ mentality. I was really proud of our character and leadership.”
Bloomsburg topped East Stroudsburg 2-1 in overtime to claim its first PSAC title in 16 years. ESU broke a scoreless tie with just 7:53 remaining, but Milligan knotted it at 1 just 88 seconds later off of a corner kick.
BU beat East Stroudsburg 1-0 in a rematch in NCAAs. The Huskies next topped West Virginia Wesleyan 2-1 to reach the national quarterfinals. Milligan, a two-sport athlete who also qualified for the PSAC tournament in the 400 meter hurdles, assisted on Bloomsburg’s first goal.
“In the beginning of the season, we were ranked something lower than where we obviously came out. We went into the playoffs and people thought ‘Bloomsburg won’t get out. They hardly ever move on.’ But then we won our first game and we thought ‘Let’s keep doing what we were doing.’ I think that proving everybody wrong,” Milligan concluded, “was one of our drives.”
“I’m so happy that the seniors went out the way they did,” Schlotter added. “Jess Supp played a crucial role. It was the best feeling I could imagine for my freshman year.”
The only rain on Bloomsburg’s parade was the injury that kept co-captain and Pennridge alum Supp out of action in 2018. Supp started 17 games in 2017, scoring three goals and four assists. “If you could work (Supp) in, that would be great,” Haney requested, “because she is one of the ones who got it all started for us.”
Bloomsburg returns both keepers, and eight of the 10 field women who played in every 2018 game. Two more Rams – twin standouts Abby and Molly Groff who led Pennridge to the 6A state final – matriculate at BU this August. Bloomsburg hosts Edinboro on Sept. 5 to start the 2019 season.
“There is nothing but positivity for this new season. We conduct ourselves to a standard whether it’s in practice, in games or volunteering in the community,” Schlotter shared. “Coach Haney started a mantra, of ‘our will, our way.’ That stuck with us and we’ll continue that the next season.”