BRIDGEWATER, Va. – When Bridgewater College played in the 2017 ODAC Women's Soccer Championship game, sophomore Sydney Ryan had one of the best seats in the house.
It was a seat that she didn't want. She would have loved to have been on the field with her teammates.
A second-team All-ODAC pick as a freshman, Ryan was expected to be a key cog in the Eagles' defense during the 2017 season. However, a torn ACL forced Ryan to the sidelines and she missed the team's run to the championship game.
"I think a lot of people thought last year was going to be the year for Bridgewater to break though," Ryan said. "We had a great team and we had a lot of experience. Some of the girls have said "Syd, if you would have been out there on the field it would have made a difference.' I never thought about it too much. Maybe I could have made a difference. Who knows?"
Ryan worked hard to recover from her injury and she returned to her all-conference form, once again earning second-team recognition this season. "I did everything I was supposed to do to be ready. I did the work. I spent the time with the PTs," she said. "From the very first practice I've been fine. All season I haven't had any complications. All the work I did to get ready paid off."
Ryan was optimistic as the season approached, but she knew the team had a lot of holes to fill if it was going to contend for another title.
It didn't take long for Ryan to realize this year's squad was going to be pretty good.
"The first game of the season," Ryan responded when asked when she knew the Eagles were going to be good. "The moment Hanna Randolph scored late in that first game against Rowan, I knew we had a chance to be a really good team. Beating Rowan was a huge confidence boost for everyone. I think at that point we all realized we could compete with anyone on our schedule."
As the season progressed the Eagles passed each big test. The team had big wins on the road at W&L and at Roanoke. A 2-0 deficit at home to nationally-ranked Lynchburg? No problem. The Eagles rallied and came away with a 2-2 draw. Next, another road game at Randolph-Macon and the Eagles took a 1-0 victory in overtime. The final game of the regular season, the Eagles need to win or tie Virginia Wesleyan to secure the No. 1 seed for the ODAC tournament and the teams battled to a scoreless tie. Not until the conference semifinals did the team come up short, losing to Virginia Wesleyan 1-0 in a hard-fought contest.
At that point, the team's fate was in the hands of the NCAA selection committee.
"For me, I played it straight down the middle," said Ryan. "I felt like it was 50-50 whether we would get in our not."
Ryan was one of several players in head coach Mike Van Horn's office watching the selection show. There were 16 pods to be revealed with four teams in each pod for a total of 64 teams. The first 15 pods were off the board and no Bridgewater. With one pod remaining the Eagles appeared to have two chances – slim and none. The first three teams in the Otterbein pod were revealed and there was just one spot remaining. Bridgewater was the 64th and final team revealed on the selection show.
"When I saw Bridgewater come up on the screen my heart was pounding so fast," Ryan admitted. "That was the most amazing feeling."
Ryan is excited about the team's chances this weekend at Otterbien.
"We've played nationally-ranked teams this season," she said. "We know what it takes to play at a high level. It's so exciting to get the chance to keep playing and see how we match up."
The Eagles will play their first-ever NCAA game on Friday evening at &;30 p.m. against No. 17 Hope College. The winner will advance to play the winner of the Otterbein-Dominican (Ill.) contest.