Dayton Flyers lose heartbreaker in NCAA tournament

Mike Tucker reacts after the loss. David Jablonski/Staff

Mike Tucker’s career ends with loss to Ohio State

Mike Tucker gave one last speech to the Dayton Flyers on the grass at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, maintaining his sense of humor even after a 3-2 loss to No. 24 Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“It’s my senior year now too, right?” Tucker said with a laugh. “I mean really senior year. What I see right now is a team that next year can go way farther.”

Tucker’s 22nd and final season at the helm of the UD women’s soccer program ended Saturday in his 470th game when Ohio State junior midfielder Nikki Walts scored on a direct kick from just outside the penalty box in the 86th minute.

Tucker finished his career with a record 313-124-33. This was his 25th season with the program. He was an assistant coach at UD for three seasons before being named the head coach.

Dayton finished the season 9-10-3. The Flyers fought back from a 1-0 deficit to take the lead on goals by Alexis Kiehl in the final seconds of the first half and Libby Leedom in the 56th minute.

Walts scored 30 seconds after Leedom’s goal to tie the game at 2-2. The Flyers controlled the game throughout the second half but weren’t able to score the go-ahead goal and lost on a bending shot into the top right corner.

“It was certainly entertaining,” Tucker said. “I’m incredibly proud of these young women from where we were even three or four or weeks ago to now. It took an incredible amount of want-to from them. Really all year, it’s just been amazing to have a group that bought in from the very beginning, who worked their rear ends off, who did everything right.

“It hurt early in the year to not get the results we wanted, but we also saw they were improving dramatically. To get to this point and get that effort and not get the result hurts, but I couldn’t be prouder of them for everything they’ve done and what they accomplished this year. It’s probably something no one would have believed.”

A team that started the season 0-4 and 2-6-2 won three games last week in the Atlantic 10 tournament by 12-0 margin. Dayton proved those performances were no fluke by nearly recording its first NCAA tournament victory since 2010 and its third win in 13 matches against Ohio State.

“It was tough,” senior forward Meghan Blank said. “I don’t think anyone would have thought we would have been a contender in this game, but we really proved that wrong tonight. I think it was a battle from the very beginning. We never let up. Each team never let up. It was a well-fought game that could have gone either way.”

Dayton lost starting goalkeeper Kaelyn Johns to a collision in the second half. Tucker said she probably broke her jaw. Johns left the stadium on a cart. One eye was swollen shut.

“It was a good clean, tough play,” Tucker said. “Those things happen sometimes.”

Senior Jenna DiTusa replaced Johns. There wasn’t much she could do on the winning goal.

“It was a well-struck ball, a great finish,” Tucker said.

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