Drive to the Top
Women’s Soccer and Volleyball charge to championships
The trophies, the celebratory photos, and the rearrangement of the record books by Falcon Women’s Soccer and Volleyball this fall tell a very important part of their championship stories.
But under closer inspection, it’s clear these young women also hit the books just as hard as they hit the weights. As efficiently as they passed the ball, their academic scores might just challenge their athletic numbers as being most impressive.
Falcon Women’s Soccer, which won the Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament championships, placed a dozen Falcons on the soccer Academic All-MAC Team, setting a school record for those honors and tying the league record for the most players from one team to receive such accolades. BGSU Volleyball, which won the regular season MAC crown, had eight of its players named to the volleyball Academic All-MAC team.
“I think it speaks to the type of individuals we have here at Bowling Green,” second-year soccer head coach Matt Fannon said. “They understand the value of hard work — in the classroom, in practice and in their preparation. They wanted to perform at the highest level in competition, and those results speak for themselves, and it’s clear they wanted the same thing from their academic performances.”
BGSU Volleyball head coach Danijela Tomic, who led her team to a 19-12 overall mark and a 13-3 MAC record, said the academic achievements of that elite group of Falcons are a reflection of the level of commitment she sees from her players throughout the year.
“There’s no secret to how we accomplished what we did this season — it was a group of players that was dedicated to doing their best every day, on the court and in the classroom, and we got to see what can happen when everyone is committed to that process. The strength of the team is the team, and the results from both the court and the classroom tell the story.”
The soccer team went 14-5-3 overall, equaling the school record for the most wins in a season while also going 10-1-0 in MAC regular-season play. The MAC regular-season championship was just the second title in the history of the program, and the 10 conference wins established a school record. If the rest of the league looked at BG’s decent 2017 finish as a one-off, or took the 1-3 start to 2018 in that context, the Falcons just might have received the motivational jolt that pushed them to the top.
“Maybe they looked at it like ‘the only thing we can do is prove everybody wrong.’ Maybe that was part of it, the chip on everybody’s shoulder, and the fact that they were just desperate for success,” Fannon said.
As he prepared for the 2018 season, Fannon believed there was enough talent on hand to be successful, but the magic really happened once all of the intangibles came together for the team.
“If you really think about it, there’s no way Bowling Green soccer — or any team — just automatically gets better players than everyone else, so to win a championship you need something else,” he said. “We have very, very talented players and I’ve got a great coaching staff, but the truth is our women wanted this. They bought into what we were doing and they wanted it, and they did the hundreds of things you have to do to finish first. The women on this team get the credit for what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
The Falcon Volleyball team is a resilient bunch — after opening the season with five straight losses, they rebounded to finish 19-12 overall and 13-3 in the MAC, winning four straight conference matches to end the regular season.
“They didn’t panic, they never lost focus and they just kept working to get better,” Tomic said. “Once you have some success, then everyone has more confidence. You see things are working and you get motivated to push even harder.”
Tomic said her team was strengthened by a core of seniors that has been with her for four years. That group was led by senior libero Kallie Seimet, the first two-time MAC Player of the Year and MAC Defensive Player of the Year in conference history, and a two-time selection to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Northeast Region Team. The Falcons also excelled in part due to their tight bond.
“They like each other and they want to win together,” Tomic said. “They never want to let their teammates down. They always have each other’s back — it is part of our culture.”
The Falcon women advanced to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship before suffering a tough five-set loss to Bradley, but as the 2018 MAC regular season champs, they can already look forward to hosting next season’s conference tournament.
“That loss won't take anything away from this special team and what we have accomplished this season,” Tomic said. “Two more banners will be hanging in the Stroh Center as a result of a great season that we had, and the MAC Tournament is coming to BGSU next year.”
Tomic saluted seniors Seimet, Isabel Kovacic, Madeline Brandewie and Ryann Cox for their roles in building a championship culture and serving as role models for the younger players on the roster.
“They will be greatly missed, but I have no doubt that great things are ahead of them because of the lessons they learned through volleyball, and their BGSU degree and experience," Tomic said.
The Falcon Women’s Soccer team rode its conference championship into the NCAA Tournament before falling to No.-14-ranked Penn State. Nine seniors anchored the team and set the tone for the championship run, with senior Erica Hubert becoming the first BG player to be named to the United Soccer Coaches All-Midwest Region First Team, while fellow senior Morgan Abbitt and juniors Kathleen Duwve, Maureen Kennedy and Chelsee Washington made the second team.
“There’s much more to winning a championship than what takes place out there in front of the fans,” said Fannon, who won his second MAC Coach of the Year honor in his second season at Bowling Green.
“We are always trying to push our women to think about the game and themselves and who we are, but in bigger ways. I feel the most fortunate because we have women who want so desperately to succeed in soccer, but off the field they are such incredible people, as well. That sounds cliché, but it’s a great group of people we have here.”
Fannon said it is the trust in his players that creates both athletic and academic success stories for BGSU Women’s Soccer, and he expects that is the norm throughout the other Falcon Athletics programs.
“We all want to win games, but if nobody graduates then I’m a terrible coach, it’s as simple as that. But what I think really makes a difference here is we just trust that we have the right people that want what we want. We’re all on the same page, in the classroom, in competition, or away from the field.”