The Purdue soccer team hosts its first NCAA tournament match since the 2007 postseason, awaiting the visiting Loyola Chicago Ramblers on Saturday evening.
It’s a moment the senior class has dreamed of their entire lives. After getting together Monday evening to watch the NCAA tournament selection show, their dreams came true when they watched themselves get picked to play Loyola in the first round.
Head coach Drew Roff understands how big this is for him and his players. He said this is a chance for them to make a name for themselves, but he knows that it won’t be easy. All of the teams in the tournament can play.
“Every single game of the tournament, you have to be at your best; otherwise you won’t be there long,” he said.
The Ramblers are no team to scoff at. Standing at 13-2-2 on the season, they’re coming off a Missouri Valley conference championship victory in which they defeated Evansville 4-0. It was the fourth straight season they have won the conference championship, according to the Loyola Phoenix.
But for the Boilermakers, the Ramblers are not complete strangers. There will be familiar faces walking onto Folk Field.
Roff previously coached at Illinois State from 2007-14, Purdue’s website said. During that time, he coached against current Loyola head coach Barry Bimbi, winning the two matches they faced off in 2013 and 2014.
For senior forward Sarah Griffith, Loyola is “right near hometown,” a roughly hour-long drive from Naperville, Illinois. She said that some Ramblers actually played on her club team.
“I know a few girls, and I know other girls on our team know them too,” Griffith said. “It will be exciting, and we will have lots of mutual fans there.”
Fifth-year defender Maya Lambert is one of those girls who knows some Loyola players. She grew up around 40 minutes north of Loyola, in Northbrook, Illinois.
Off the top of her head, she said she knew defender/midfielder Aly Kilburg and defender Megan Demski.
Kilburg averages playing all 90 minutes of her games while Demski averages 31. Demski has also contributed to five goals for the team, tied for the second most behind forward/midfielder Megan Nemec.
Whether or not the Boilers come out victorious, Griffith admitted the match will be emotional since it will most likely be her last game at Folk Field.
“I’m gonna miss that field so much once I graduate,” she said. “To have another game there, just the last one where you know it’s going to be your last one, will be so special and so emotional.”
While Griffith has said in the past that she plans on continuing her soccer career after graduation, Lambert’s soccer career ultimately relies on if the Boilers can win. She has already accepted a job in consulting and does not plan on continuing to play. She represents others on the team as well.
“There’s a group of 10 of us where this could possibly be our last game in a Purdue uniform and probably most of us are considering moving on from soccer after it,” Lambert said.
For Roff, the emotion doesn’t come from the possibility of this being his last game as a Boilermaker. Instead, he understands that this might be the last match he has with some of his first recruits to the program after “throwing them into the fire” as freshmen.
The memorable senior class will forever leave him a lasting image.
“To be able to create so many incredible moments together, and special moments out of Folk Field, it’s really something I’ll never forget.”