2013 MAC Soccer Season Preview: Bowling Green Falcons

BGSU Soccer Celebration - BGSU Athletic Communications

BGSU soccer in 2013 will be two much different journeys. One team will seek to break through. The other team will work just to survive and improve. However, the longer roads aren't that different, and hopefully for the Falcons, the two teams will eventually arrive at the same place.

BGSU Men's Soccer

Falcons' head coach Eric Nichols will begin his fifth season with the Orange and Brown this month. To some, the steps his taken have been baby ones, but there is no argument that the steps his program is taking are going forward.

When Nichols took over in 2009, the program was at rock bottom, and his won-loss record that year reflected those hard times. The Falcons went 3-12-3 that season, although two of those wins were in the Mid-American Conference. In fact, the team barely missed a berth into the MAC tournament. He responded by leading the 2010 squad to a 6-9-3 record and a 3-3 mark in the MAC, which tied for third place.

During the 2011 season, the Falcons rose further and nearly broke the .500 barrier. That year's team went 7-8-3 and even defeated ninth-ranked Michigan at home in front of one of the most raucous soccer crowds a MAC school could hope for. Nichols' program took another step forward one year later by finishing the 2012 season with an 8-9-3 mark. It was the Falcons' most wins and best winning percentage since 2003. The team's 3-3-1 record in the MAC also earned the team another tournament berth.

Nichols' career mark at BGSU (24-38-12) may not seem like a positive, but the effect that he has had on the program most certainly has been.

So, can his team improve for a fifth year in a row? One must assume that it can. Of the team's 23 goals in 2012, players who are returning to this year's team accounted for 22. Only Zach Lemke and his one goal are gone. Of the 11 players who scored at least one goal OR had at least one assist, only Lemke and Chris McLean are gone. BGSU's starting goaltender is back, too.

This is a senior-laden team with nine players in their final season. They have an enormous amount of experience and have gotten better and better with every season. If this group wants to leave a legacy -- and they certainly can -- the time is now.

As for specific players to watch for, Danny Baraldi is one of the most electric, and he's not even among that list of nine seniors. Baraldi led the 2012 Falcons with 50 shots, 20 of which were on goal. He converted six of those and had another seven assists. Anthony Grant is the other offensive power to watch for on the pitch this year. Grant scored a team-best eight goals on 22 shots-on-goal in 2012. He also helped with four assists. More importantly, he converted five game-winning shots. Grant is also entering just his second year at BGSU after transferring to Bowling Green in January 2012. It will be difficult to come up with an encore after taking the MAC by storm to the point of earning first-team All-MAC status, but it should be entertaining to watch him attempt to be even better.

This year's schedule is a challenging one. After hosting Malone to begin the season, the Falcons welcome Michigan back to Cochrane Field for the first time since the 2011 upset. Once done with the Wolverines, BGSU plays twice in Wisconsin against Marquette and Milwaukee. On Sept. 13, they battle another Big Ten team at home, this time against Ohio State. Then, it's off to the road again for tilts against Michigan State, Akron, Marshall, Northern Kentucky and Buffalo. That's right -- five straight road games. The Falcons get three in a row at home in October (Detroit, Northern Illinois, Cleveland State) before heading to Davidson and Wright State. BGSU closes the regular season with home games against Hartwick and IPFW, as well as road ones against Western Michigan and West Virginia.

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BGSU Women's Soccer

The 2013 season will begin a new era for the women's soccer program at Bowling Green. New head coach Lindsay Basalyga takes over and is in much the same position that Eric Nichols was in with the men's team in 2009.

Basalyga comes to Bowling Green via Eastern Kentucky. In eight years as a head coach, she has produced a 46-82-20 record, but that is a deceiving stat. Basalyga was the first and only coach in EKU history. The Colonels played the first game in program history in 2005. Within four seasons, she led the team to a second-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference and repeated that in 2010. In 2012, she led the team to a 10-7-3 record, which was the school's first-ever winning record. The team also finished third in the OVC and earned a fifth-straight berth in the OVC tournament. That is the best active streak in the league.

Her challenge at Bowling Green will be much different. She'll have to take a program that has quickly gotten used to losing and turn it around.

BGSU had a fantastic run in the mid-2000s. From 2004-2008, the team won 56 games and at least ten in each season. That stretch included a 14-7-2 record (9-2 MAC) in 2005 and a 12-6-4 record (6-3-2 MAC) in 2008. Then, the bottom fell out.

In 2009, the Falcons went 5-12-3. They managed just a 4-12-4 record in 2010. The team posted six wins in 2011 but just a 6-13-1 mark. Finally, last season, BGSU went 1-17-1. That's right -- they won just one of 19 games. So, in four years, the team won ten games, tied nine and lost 54.

Is there hope? Well, if you believe that players will improve with more experience, then yes. The Falcons return virtually all of their top players from the 2012 season. Only five players scored goals last year (nine total), and four of those players are back. Another three players had at least one assist, and two of those players are back.

However, neither of the goalkeepers who played in 2012 will be back. That might be a good thing, though; those goalkeepers allowed an astounding 43 goals, for an average of 2.25 per game. There are three goalies currently listed on the roster, all of whom are freshmen. Lauren Cadel is of the redshirt variety, so it's possible she will have the best opportunity. At this point, it's a crapshoot. Whomever Basalyga chooses, the player will be unknown to game action. You just have to hope for the best and allow the players to gain experience.

For offense, the Falcons will likely rely on Sidney Huth and Madeline Wideman. Huth led the team in 2012 with three goals despite only starting three times and having just seven shots on goal. Wideman started 17 games and had converted just two of 18 shots on goal, but one of those was BGSU's only game-winner of the season. That came against IUPUI just three matches into the season.

Basalyga's first schedule at the helm of BGSU women's soccer is not kind. Her team will have to endure six road games out of the first eight contests, including tilts at Cleveland State, Michigan State, Ohio and Kent State. They'll follow that stretch with four MAC games in a row at home (EMU, WMU, NIU, Toledo). The Falcons travel to Buffalo and Akron, then host Ball State and Miami before traveling to Central Michigan to close the regular season.

The 2013 season does not promise to be kind to Basalyga's Falcons, but she knows how to build a program from the ground up. It will take time, but if she's given that time, there is no reason to believe that the Falcons won't get better.

After all, Eric Nichols and the BGSU men's soccer team has shown us the virtue of baby steps. It can work for Basalyga, too.

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