The success of the Otterbein women's soccer program in 2018 carried over to last fall for players such as former Olentangy Orange standout Delaney Earl.

That has become the pattern for the Cardinals under coach Brandon Koons, who is 290-91-35 with nine Ohio Athletic Conference regular-season championships, six OAC tournament titles and seven NCAA Division III tournament appearances in 21 seasons.

In 2018, Otterbein went 17-3-1, won the OAC regular-season and tournament titles and made its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010, defeating Dominican 2-1 before losing to Hope 2-1 in the second round.

Last season, the Cardinals finished 16-4-1 overall and 7-2 in the OAC to place second behind Ohio Northern (9-0).

"We came back from 2018 with a huge fire underneath us because of how we went out of the NCAA tournament," said Earl, a forward and 2018 Orange graduate. "I know this fire is going to be underneath all of us coming back for the 2020 season."

A key ingredient to Otterbein's formula for success has been homegrown talent. Earl was one of 22 players from central Ohio on the Cardinals' roster in 2018 and one of 18 area players on the team last fall.

"Columbus is such a strong area for soccer that we benefit greatly, and in turn, soccer players benefit from being in Columbus," Koons said. "There aren't many schools where you can leave practice and drive 10 minutes down the road to see professional men's and women's matches. I get to see some of the best youth teams in the country within minutes of campus ... and with a new professional stadium being built downtown, I'm excited to see the growth of the game over the next couple years."

Midfielder Bella Shivley, a 2017 DeSales graduate, had a team-high 16 goals and eight assists in 2018 and was named third-team All-American. She improved on both statistics last year, leading the Cardinals with 22 goals and 11 assists and earning second-team All-American honors.

Earl started 20 of 21 games in 2018, recording 13 goals and nine assists and being named OAC Freshman of the Year. Last season, she had 13 goals and eight assists.

The Cardinals' third-leading scorer last season was 2017 Watterson graduate Emily Ganz, a forward who had nine goals and nine assists.

Among the seniors on last year's team were Olentangy Liberty graduate Katie Best (defender), DeSales graduate Haley Hott (defender), Hilliard Davidson graduate Megan Losey (forward), Worthington Kilbourne graduate Annie Mosca (midfielder) and Marysville graduate Cassidy Nicol (defender).

"We definitely had a good season last year," Ganz said. "It's hard to complain when you go 16-4-1. We had put a lot of pressure on ourselves after winning the OAC regular season and tournament in 2018. We had all the tools to do it again and we knew that, but we also knew that everyone else in the OAC knew that, too. ...

"I think that 2018 was a magical season and this past fall really highlighted that."

Last season, the Cardinals were 14-1-1 before losing 2-1 to Ohio Northern on Oct. 30 and 2-0 to Capital on Nov. 2. Then in the OAC tournament, Otterbein beat Wilmington 2-1 on Nov. 5 and avenged the loss to Capital with a 2-1 victory over the Crusaders in a semifinal Nov. 7 before losing to Ohio Northern 2-1 in two overtimes in the final two days later.

"Last season was super fun and challenging," said 2017 Watterson graduate Priscilla Severance, a forward who had four goals and nine assists last fall. "As a team, we worked so hard. Falling short to both ONU and Capital at the end of the OAC regular season was tough. Having the opportunity to play them both again in the tournament was a great experience. There is never a dull moment when facing those teams. Unfortunately, we came up short in the OAC tournament championship (game).

"The end of the postseason was heartbreaking, but playing with this group of girls was great. We push each other, we keep each other accountable and we have fun. ... We're ready to get back out there and work harder toward our goals."

During the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, players in the program have attempted to stay connected by holding regular meetings online via Zoom.

"We do this to talk about the most random things, to check in on everyone and to have some outside conversations with those who are not a part of our families," Severance said. "We have these meetings to relay some information to the team as well, but it's mostly to keep everyone sane and in contact with one another. No one was able to have a spring season, so we thought this was the best way to stay in touch. Our coach has sent out some great workouts for the girls to try out. That is one way we're trying to stay in shape. I believe others are just doing anything right now to stay active, whether it be watching YouTube videos, coming up with their own workouts or watching videos made from local gyms to keep them in shape. ... We are able to work out with one another over Zoom."

Other central Ohio products expected to return for the Cardinals this fall are 2018 Thomas Worthington graduate Annie Howell (midfielder), 2019 Dublin Scioto graduate Bri Jordan (defender), 2017 Hilliard Bradley graduate Myiah Kelley (forward), 2018 Orange graduate Mackenzie Koons (forward), 2019 Thomas graduate Mackenzie Peeke (midfielder), 2017 Watterson graduate Regina Severance (defender), 2018 Canal Winchester graduate Alaina Reher (goalkeeper), 2017 Olentangy graduate Emma Spinner (goalie) and 2017 Olentangy graduate Emerson Woerner (midfielder).

"We want to and believe that we can win another OAC regular-season and tournament championship, along with making it to the NCAA tournament," Ganz said. "This upcoming season will be a new challenge. We lost a large senior class and almost our entire starting back line. We have a large freshman class that we're incredibly excited to have join us. This gives us as upperclassmen the responsibility to portray the attitude to the incoming players that is needed to achieve our goals as a team."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek