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Closing time: Where each ONU fall sports team stands down the stretch

The ONU women's soccer team is currently in first place in the OAC with four games remaining. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

There are two weeks until ‘Championship Week,’ when the OAC Tournaments for volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer take place, the ONU men’s and women’s cross country teams run in the OAC Championship meet, and the football team heads toward the end of their regular season (although their last game isn’t until Nov. 11).

This means that it’s time to evaluate where each ONU fall sports team stands coming down the stretch, and which games, meets or matches might play a pivotal role in determining their place in the conference.

Read below for a team-by-team breakdown:

 

#15 Women’s soccer (currently 1st in OAC with 12-1-1 overall/ 5-0 conference record)

Polar Bears have won 10 straight and will likely move up in national rankings this week

The ONU women’s soccer team has outscored their opponents 12-2 in conference play, and have allowed just three goals since their first game (and only loss) on Sept. 1. They were voted almost unanimously to win the conference in the coaches preseason poll, and it looks like they’ll do just that.

MORE: After rough start, 17th-ranked ONU finds way defensively

ONU has a one-game lead on Capital with four games remaining in conference play, although the Polar Bears already beat Capital this season. ONU has also defeated 3rd-place John Carroll and 4th-place Mount Union, and the combined conference record of Northern's remaining opponents is 5-10-2.

If the Polar Bears keep up their stingy defense, a regular season conference championship seems very attainable.

Projected OAC finish: 1st

Big games remaining: Oct. 24 vs. Baldwin Wallace

The Yellow Jackets are the only team currently with a winning record left on Northern’s schedule, and ONU will face them in their final home game of the regular season next Tuesday.

 

#21 Volleyball (currently tied for 1st in OAC with 21-4 overall/ 4-1 conference record)

Otterbein’s loss on Saturday means Northern still has shot at OAC regular season title

ONU caught a break on Saturday when Otterbein, who led the conference after beating Northern last week, fell to Heidelberg in a 3-1 shocker. This means that Otterbein, ONU, Mount Union and Muskingum are all tied for first place in the OAC at 4-1.

However, given head-to-head tiebreaker rules, Otterbein would still hold the right to the OAC crown if they and Ohio Northern finished the season tied. Here’s how each first-place team has fared against each other so far this season:

Otterbein: beat ONU and Muskingum, still has to play Mount Union. (2-0)

Ohio Northern: beat Mount Union, lost to Otterbein, still has to play Muskingum. (1-1)

Mount Union: lost to ONU, still has to play Otterbein and Muskingum. (0-1)

Muskingum: lost to Otterbein, still has to play ONU and Mount Union. (0-1)

Long story short, there’s a lot of volleyball left in the final two weeks of the regular season. Right now, it looks like Otterbein will have a slight advantage over ONU and the rest of the first-placers with those two tiebreaker wins, but the Cardinals still have to play a Mount Union team that was picked second in the conference and has won four straight.

Ohio Northern will need to win their remaining four matches and hope that Mount Union beats Otterbein on Oct. 28, the last day of the regular season. Both ONU and Otterbein also still have to play Baldwin Wallace, who is one match back in 2nd place and has a 25-2 record this season.

Of all the fall sports teams, it is hardest to predict where the volleyball team will land.

Projected OAC finish: 2nd

Big matches remaining: Oct. 21 vs. Muskingum, Oct. 24 vs. Baldwin Wallace

ONU’s final two home matches are must-wins, and they will likely not come easy; Muskingum and Baldwin Wallace have just five losses between them this season.

 

#24 Men’s cross country (72-17 overall)

ONU, Mount Union expected to duke it out at OAC meet

The men’s cross country team came into this season ranked 17th in the country, but have had somewhat of a rollercoaster year thus far. They ran competitively at the Calvin (Mi.) Invitational, placing third of 22 teams, but then finished fifth of nine teams at the Tiffelberg Open, in a race where coach Jason Maus said his team “just didn't race with a lot of heart."

The Polar Bears dropped out of the top 25 after that meet, but bounced back two weeks later to win the ultra-competitive All-Ohio Championships. Three runners placed in the top 10 and junior Ian McVey won the race, a first in school history. Following Saturday’s 12th-place finish at the competitive Principia (Ill.) Cowbell Classic, which featured 14 of the nation’s top 25 teams, #24 Ohio Northern will head into the OAC Championship meet in two weeks riding somewhat of a hot streak.

The Polar Bears will likely face a stiff test from Mount Union, who was picked first in the conference over Ohio Northern (although both had five first-place votes) in the OAC coaches preseason poll.

Mount Union finished second at the Tiffelberg Open and fourth at the All-Ohio Championships. Ohio Northern was ranked second in their region heading into Saturday’s meet, while Mount Union was ranked seventh.

Ohio Northern has won two straight OAC championships, beating Mount Union last year by 14 team points.

Projected OAC finish: 1st

Big meets remaining: OAC Championships on Oct. 28

This is for the crown, folks.

 

Women’s cross country (63-26 overall)

Polar Bears will need strong finish to win first OAC title in five years

Northern came into this Saturday ranked ninth in the Great Lakes Region, with conference foes Otterbein and Mount Union ranked third and eighth respectively. John Carroll, also in the region, is currently 11th.

Coming into this season, Ohio Northern was picked to finish third in the conference, behind Otterbein and John Carroll and ahead of Mount Union.

ONU has had a steady season thus far, finishing seventh at the Calvin (Mi.) Invite, first at the Tiffelberg Open and fifth at the All-Ohio Championships. They welcomed back senior Emily Richards this week, who finished second overall at last year’s OAC Championship meet, as she ran a career-best time of 21:50 on Saturday and finished 10th out of 332 runners at the Principia (Ill.) Cowbell Classic.

Ohio Northern will need another strong performance from Richards this year and support from the team’s other top runners to battle Otterbein, Mount Union and John Carroll for an OAC title.

The Polar Bears have finished fourth in the OAC Championship meet the past two seasons.

Projected OAC finish: 3rd

Big meets remaining: OAC Championships on Oct. 28

It all rides on this one.

 

Football (currently tied for 3rd in OAC with a 4-2 overall/ 3-2 conference record)

After big win at John Carroll, Polar Bears could finish as high as third in OAC

Despite a rough start to conference play, where ONU lost two of their first three OAC games, the Polar Bears have bounced back to win two straight -- including a dramatic double-OT victory at defending conference champion John Carroll on Saturday.

ONU is tied with Baldwin Wallace, Otterbein and John Carroll for third place in the OAC with four games left on the schedule. Mount Union (5-0 in OAC) and Heidelberg (4-1) are first and second in the conference, and although ONU has lost to both of those schools already, they are also the most likely of any of their third-place counterparts to finish in the top three.

Here’s how each third-place team has fared against each other so far this season:

Ohio Northern: beat Otterbein and John Carroll, still has to play Baldwin Wallace. (2-0)

John Carroll: beat Baldwin Wallace, lost to ONU, still has to play Otterbein. (1-1)

Baldwin Wallace: lost to John Carroll, still has to play ONU and Otterbein. (0-1)

Otterbein: lost to ONU, still has to play John Carroll and Baldwin Wallace. (0-1)

The downside for ONU is that Mount Union and Heidelberg will likely not budge at first and second place; Mount Union has not won a game by less than 29 points this season, and Heidelberg plays three of the conference’s four worst teams in the final weeks. Mount Union also beat Heidelberg already, so those top two spots could potentially be locked with four weeks remaining.

And even if ONU won out and Heidelberg fell to, let’s say, Baldwin Wallace on the road, then Heidelberg would still own the tiebreaker over ONU after beating them in week two.

The ceiling for ONU is likely going to be third place in the conference, although that is very attainable after Saturday’s win at John Carroll. The back half of ONU’s schedule is considerably easier than the front, as the combined conference record of ONU’s four remaining opponents is 6-14.

Projected OAC finish: 3rd

Big games remaining: Nov. 11 vs. Baldwin Wallace

The last game of ONU’s regular season could decide whether or not the Polar Bears finish third or lower in the OAC.

 

Men’s soccer (currently 6th in OAC with a 9-5-1 overall/ 2-3 conference record)

With favorable remaining schedule, Polar Bears could potentially finish in top half of OAC

Although the Polar Bears have lost three of their last four games, they are still just one game out of third place in the conference with four games remaining. Ohio Northern will play Wilmington, Muskingum and Baldwin Wallace -- who have won just two OAC games combined this season -- before a contest with Marietta (3-2) to close the regular season.

If Ohio Northern can win three of their final four, then they could easily finish in the top half of the conference (last year, fourth-place Marietta and third-place Capital both finished with five OAC wins).

The Polar Bears have also already beaten Heidelberg and Mount Union, who both have a half-game lead over ONU in the standings. Therefore, they would win the tiebreaker if they finished even with either of those teams.

However, if ONU were to lose more than once in their final four games, they would be at risk of being jumped by one of the previously mentioned teams behind them (Wilmington and Baldwin Wallace are just a half-game behind ONU). This would drop Northern to the bottom-third of the conference, a place the program hasn’t been since they finished 7th in 2002 (in fact, the last time ONU didn't finish in the top half of the OAC was 12 years ago).

But with a program that is used to winning big games down the stretch, and with a favorable schedule ahead, that will likely not be the case.

Projected OAC finish: 4th

Big games remaining: Oct. 28 vs. Marietta

ONU did not lose a game last year until their final regular season matchup against Marietta, when the Pioneers shocked the third-ranked Polar Bears. This year, ONU will likely need to beat Marietta to finish in the top half of the conference.

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