GREENVILLE – Greenville senior Maddy Baker fulfilled a dream she’s had since her days playing youth soccer at Greenville’s North Park by committing to the Bluffton University women’s soccer team on Thursday evening.
“I have always wanted to do this ever since I was young playing rec soccer out behind the Kroger park in Greenville, and it really became a reality this year whenever senior year hit and started looking at schools,” the daughter of Matt and Mary Baker said. “This spring I play on a select team, and I’ve been in communication with Bluffton, and they were really interested in me. They came and watched me play with my team, and they just told me they had a spot for me on their roster.”
Former Greenville varsity girls soccer coach Steve Shepard has watched Baker play since those days in youth soccer and is proud of what she has accomplished in the past decade.
“I just think it’s fantastic,” Shepard said of Baker committing to Bluffton. “She worked so hard for so long. Matt and I started with them I think when they were U8s out of club. She’s worked and put the time in and kept at it. So determined. And it was hard for her being a two-sport athlete, you know doing cheer and trying to do this, but she stuck with it and always worked hard, and it paid off her, and I’m so happy she’s getting to go on and play.”
When exploring her college options, Baker loved the welcoming atmosphere of the Bluffton campus and the Bluffton women’s soccer program. At Bluffton she’ll major in pre-physical therapy with double minor in sports management and business, hoping to get into physical therapy with prosthetics.
“I love the community,” Baker said. “Everyone there is just really positive, welcoming and friendly. They really take you in as their own like you’ve been there your whole life. It’s a really small school, close-knit. The team just makes you feel like you walk in and they just welcome you.”
Bluffton hired Kevin Gregory as its new head coach after the Beavers finished the 2017 season with a 3-14 overall record and 2-7 mark in the NCAA Division III Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, which includes Anderson University, Defiance College, Earlham College, Franklin College, Hanover College, Manchester University, Mount St. Joseph University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Transylvania University.
Gregory will try to turn around the Bluffton program, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2011.
“He has big plans this year,” Baker said. “He wants to change the sign. They haven’t had 20-plus girls in a few years, and this season they actually do so that’s something he is really proud about. Their assistant coach (Cheryl Bell) is actually a local; she’s from Piqua. And they have a bunch of local girls from like Sidney and Troy on their team so it’s cool that I get to play with them instead of against them like I did in high school.”
Baker, who earned special mention American League honors from the Greater Western Ohio Conference as a senior, sees parallels between the soccer programs at Greenville and Bluffton. After spending her high school career helping to build the Lady Wave’s program, she hopes to do the same for the Beavers.
“That is what we try to do here at Greenville,” Baker said. “We don’t really have as many girls as we did in the past, and that’s how it is there. So I hope that I can add to that and help them improve and win more games.”
Baker anticipates playing either outside midfielder or outside back during her college years. Her time playing select soccer this spring should help get her ready for the college game, Shepard said.
“That’s getting her pretty close to prepared, but I think there’ll be just another level a bit higher, but I think she’ll adjust pretty easy,” Shepard said. “I think the game will be very similar to what she’s playing now with the talent she’s playing against so I think in that regard she won’t be overwhelmed by any stretch.”
Baker has several qualities that should allow her to adapt to the college game.
“Her tenacity for one,” Shepard said. “Great quick power. She’s always had a good, quick, hard shot, and that’s going to do her well. She’s good with both feet. She’s got a lot going for her. She’s got a quick three steps to the ball. A lot of things that college coaches could be happy about.”