The Capital University women's soccer team is set to host cross-town rival, Otterbein, this coming Saturday in the two teams' annual Ohio Athletic Conference matchup.
With both teams tied atop the OAC standings with a record of 6-2, this game has a vast amount of added significance to postseason seeding and home field advantage heading into the conference tournament.
John Carroll, the other 6-2 OAC team, has been eliminated from the possibility of clinching the No. 1 seed, as both Capital and Otterbein defeated the Blue Streaks earlier in the regular season.
"So far this year we have tried to follow the motto, 'No matter the win, loss, goal for or goal against, don't get too high or get to low, just stay the course,'" said Capital head coach Chris Kouns. "To this point we have pretty much done just that."
Kouns also pointed out the fact that his team is one that bounces back quickly, showing resiliency when down on the scoreboard.
"We've given up the first goal on six occasions and in every single game we've come back to net the next goal," Kouns said. "We've lost four times on the year, but each time we rebounded with a win to make sure we did not lose two in a row. In every instance we've just gone about our business and stayed the course."
Over the past seven seasons, both teams have met 11 times, including five OAC Tournament matchups, with the Crusaders posting a 4-6-1 record against the Cardinals over that seven year span.
Since the Crusaders head coach Chris Kouns took the helm in 2011, Capital has posted a 1-1-1 record against Otterbein over the past two seasons.
Perhaps the most memorable game in this rivalry for the Crusaders under Kouns was back in 2011, when Capital defeated Otterbein, 1-0, in the OAC Tournament semifinals, en route to an OAC Championship over John Carroll, followed by the school's first-ever victory in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
But this season is a bit different, as Capital has assumed the role as the better regular season record holder heading into this weekend's rivalry game, an advantage the Crusaders have not held since 2011.
Furthermore, both teams have recorded at least one noticeable winning streak this season as well, as the Cardinals have won eight of their last 10 games, while the Crusaders tallied a six match unbeaten streak toward the beginning of the season and have also won eight of their last 10 games coming into Saturday's game.
In addition, both teams have faced three of the same non-conference opponents this regular season in Thomas More, Hanover, and Kenyon.
Capital defeated then-No. 14 ranked Thomas More, 2-1, in double overtime, while Otterbein fell 2-0 to the Saints.
Hanover proved to be a similar result for both Capital and Otterbein, as the Panthers defeated both teams by scores of 2-0 and 2-1, respectively.
On the other hand, Kenyon ended up being a split between the Crusaders and Cardinals, as Capital defeated the Ladies, 2-0, while Otterbein tied, 1-1 in double overtime.
With the tough non-conference and majority of the OAC schedule in their rearview mirror, both teams have managed to earn themselves a spot within the top eight of the latest NCAA/NSCAA Division III Great Lakes Regional Poll.
The Crusaders are currently ranked No. 5 in the poll, while the Cardinals sit at No. 7.
A total of three OAC teams, Capital, Otterbein and Ohio Northern, are currently ranked in the poll.
Earlier in the season, the Crusaders earned a No. 22 ranking in the NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division III National Poll, after defeating nationally ranked Thomas More.
Both teams have also seen multiple players featured among the OAC stat leaders, as a total of six players between the two teams rank in the top five in their respective stat categories.
For the Crusaders, senior Hilary Ells is tied for the lead in points (26), leads in goals (13), and is second in shots (72).
Sophomore Jamie Murray is close behind, as she currently stands at fourth in goals (8) and fifth in points (19).
Freshman Becca Cartmill also tops the leaderboard, as she leads the conference in assists (9).
Also, reigning OAC Goalkeeper of the Year and OAC Player of the Week earlier this season, senior Maggie Donnellan, is second in save percentage (.840), third in saves (89), and fourth in goals-against average (0.98).
As for the Cardinals, twin sisters Dana and Jillian Strimbu have made their presence known among the OAC leaders, as well.
Dana, a sophomore goalkeeper, is second in both goals against (11) and goals-against average (0.73), while her sister Jillian is third in both points (22) and goals (10), and fifth in shots (62).
With both teams having once again completed the tough road through a conference that currently has five teams with 11 or more wins this season, one last match will be the decisive factor in crowning the OAC regular season champion, giving the victor the rights to a No. 1 seed in the OAC Tournament beginning on Nov. 5.
"Although Saturday's game has a nice carrot at the end of it in reality it is no different than any other game we've played this year," Kouns said. "There will be two 45 minute halves, a size five ball, the goals will be the same dimensions, everything is the same. That being said, I hope our players will approach it with the same work rate and focus they have every other game throughout the season."
Kouns went on to note the hard hat mentality that his team will need to bring come Saturday's matchup.
"If we come to work on Saturday carrying our lunch pails, then we will have every opportunity to carry something else home at the end of the day," Kouns said. "I keep telling them that hard work reveals character. Some people turn up their sleeves, some people turn up their noses and some people don't turn up at all. If that rings true for us this weekend, then we will put ourselves in a good position for a positive outcome."
The Capital-Otterbein women's soccer game will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 2 at Bernlohr Stadium.