ASHLAND -- Playing alongside one of the top players in America has been a learning experience for Howland High graduate Beth MacDonald, a sophomore center and forward on the Ashland University women's soccer team.
A teammate of forward Kristy Ritchie, a four-year All-American, MacDonald helped the Eagles to a 16-1-1 record, their best ever, and a third straight Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.
Ashland also qualified for the NCAA playoffs for the fifth straight year, winning the opener over GLIAC-champion Mercyhurst, 2-1, before being eliminated by Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, 1-0.
Over the last four seasons, Ashland compiled a 63-9-3 record with only two losses at home.
Second in assists: MacDonald was second on the team with eight assists and fourth in scoring with five goals, or 18 points.
Last year as a freshman, MacDonald had four goals and two assists for 10 points to help Ashland to a 14-3-1 record, including 8-1 in the GLIAC.
MacDonald said that entering a top program and developing her role as a team player have helped raise her skills to a new level.
"I came into a very strong team so I knew that I had a lot of support around me so I didn't have to [do it all] myself," she said.
Ritchie is one of only 14 collegiate players to score 100 or more goals in a career. She finished with 102, including 28 last season; she also had 13 assists in 2001.
Another of Ashland's featured players, forward Jen Fulk, had six goals and seven assists.
"I learned so much from the girls who were older than me; it is an entirely different level," said "[Ritchie] is one of the best players in America.
"Teamwork became a huge [objective]. In college, just one person can't cut it. We have a lot of combination plays that I learned from my teammates. You have to work together and everyone has to be functioning with the same mindset. There are no one-man shows in college."
MacDonald said she also had to get stronger physically.
"It is a whole new class of athletes. I had to adjust to that level of play and it took me two weeks to adjust. Not only do you have to stay strong, you have to upgrade your skills to their level or better," she said.
New role ahead: MacDonald believes her role as playmaker may change to scorer next season without Ritchie and Fulk, who completed their eligibility.
"I played the center-forward position and was in a distributor's mode, but I think the coach [John Hall] is hoping I step up to be a scorer," she said.
"I think that role is going to fall upon me and one of my classmates, Tera Pifer."
Pifer had nine goals and four assists in 2001.
MacDonald has a 3.6 grade-point average with a double major in marketing and sports communications. She made the National Honor Society as a freshman.
"You have to be able to balance your athletics and academics, because without being a good student, the college won't recruit you," said MacDonald.
"I think that throughout the season we were away for about a month from Friday through Monday. I missed a lot of classes, but the school expects you to handle that responsibility."
Academic help is available.
"Our coach monitors our grades," she said, adding, "I think the women's soccer team has been the top academic team on campus."
The daughter of Linda and Alan MacDonald, Beth was coached at Howland by Gary Anderson.
There also is a Youngstown-area connection to the Ashland men's soccer team. Andrei Turchyn, a senior goalkeeper this past season from Canfield High, concluded his career by helping the Eagles to a 12-5-1 record and the school's first NCAA playoff berth.
A back-up goalie to Bayard Elfvin, Turchyn played in six games and posted a 0.89 goals against average and registered a shutout against Wheeling Jesuit.
XJohn Kovach covers the college scene for The Vindicator. Write to him at email@example.com.