By ANDY WOLF
The opportunity and the timing was right.
James Walker wanted to get back into college coaching, eventually.
He’s now guiding the University of Findlay women’s soccer team in his first season.
Walker will look to turn around a program which hasn’t posted a winning campaign since 2010.
“When the opportunity came up, I thought it’d be a great fit,” said Walker, a former head women’s soccer coach at Tiffin and Duquesne.
Walker inherits a 5-12-1 team.
But he’s insistent on leaving last year in the past and giving everyone on his roster a fresh start and a different mindset.
“We didn’t go into too much depth because (2017) wasn’t a good year, necessarily, for the program,” Walker said.
The Oilers were picked eighth in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll.
UF missed the eight-team conference tournament last year at 4-9-1 in league play, losing the tiebreaker to Lake Erie for the final spot.
Walker and his players discussed goals from the first day he arrived in December.
“We want to have a winning record,” Walker said. “We want to be in the playoffs this year. We want to be competing to be higher up in the conference. Within a couple years, why can’t we win the conference? Why can’t we compete to go to the NCAA tournament?”
The Oilers possess an abundance of starting experience as 10 players return who started 10 games in 2017. Six more made multiple starts.
The roster is still on the younger side with eight sophomores and 13 freshmen.
Last year’s youth contributed to one of the weaker defenses in the nation at 2.25 goals against average (217th nationally).
Claire Lascescki is the lone senior defender and has 24 career starts.
Senior midfielder Karis Dewalt and junior Sierra Perry (Findlay High) are also veterans in the mix.
Sophomore defenders Lindsey Ahbe and Ashley Zenker each started all 18 games last season.
“We want to keep it really tight; we want to minimize risks,” Walker said of his defensive style. “The defensive third is not an area where you want to take chances. We’re restricting that and we’re trying to get the ball forward a little bit quicker.”
Offensively, junior Sierra Peacock was UF’s leading scorer at seven goals and two assists. Sophomore Karleigh Clare and junior Chloe Marburger each added four goals.
Walker also expects big things from Shannon Marsh, one of two Bowling Green State University sophomore transfers along with Paige Casto.
Other key offensive options include freshmen Olivia Frank and Nikki Schuster, and sophomore Madison VanCucha.
“The early signs are, as a coach, pleasing because we’re creating chances,” said Walker, referring to a 1-0 overtime scrimmage win over Siena Heights. “Where I start to get concerned is when we’re not creating chances.”
Junior goalkeeper Anna Money went 4-9 in matches she started with 93 saves but 30 goals allowed. Sophomore Nicole Burke made the other five starts with 31 saves and 12 goals allowed.
UF makes its season debut Thurdsay at home against Urbana and begins GMAC play the following Sunday against Kentucky Wesleyan.
“I get the impression they’re chomping at the bit right now to get going,” Walker said of his team. “It’s really an exciting time for us as a program. We’ve got a lot to do to continue to get better but we’ve got girls who are buying in, working really hard, they’re excited to be out there.
“We hope that translates into a few more wins this year.”