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Dec, 2017

Puntel Leads the Way for ONU in the NCAA Tournament

The 2017 fall season has been an amazing journey for Ohio Northern University midfielder Sarah Puntel.  ONU blazed their way through the postseason, beating the likes of Otterbein and Capital in the OAC Tournament and Penn State-Behrend, Illinois Wesleyan, and William Smith in the NCAA Division III Tournament.  A narrow 1-0 loss to Hardin-Simmons in the NCAA quarterfinals, a game that could easily have gone either way, left the Polar Bears a few steps short of a national title.

“Our run in the NCAA tournament this year was nothing short of spectacular,” Puntel commented. “That was the furthest we had gone in school history. The feelings during that time were almost indescribable.  We were all so elated to make it that far. Being the underdogs, no one expected us to go as far as we did, but we knew we could do it.  We are all so proud of ourselves and each other for the incredible season we had.  For next year, we want redemption.  We want to go further and think we have the talent to do so.  This season really boosted our confidence and showed the rest of the country what we can do, and how good we really are.”

The Strongsville, Ohio native has been an absolute stalwart at Ohio Northern, appearing in 58 career games as a regular in the ONU midfield.   Her offensive statistics are equally impressive as the current junior has 12 career goals and five assists.  She has been getting the job done in the classroom as well, receiving Academic All-Ohio Athletic Conference honors in both 2016 and 2017.

Puntel’s junior season has been a career one for the Internationals SC alum as she appeared in 24 games, tallying four goals (two of which were game-winners) and two assists.  In 2016, Puntel started 19 games, recording four goals and two assists.  In 2015, she appeared in 15 games, scoring her first career goal against Muskingum on October 25th.

Ohio Northern head coach Mark Batman has been quite impressed with her work over the past three seasons.

"Sarah is a very steady and consistent player for us. She is a very smart player and always does the right thing. When she stands out it is never for the wrong reason. She is a very well-rounded soccer player."

Batman knew what he was getting when he recruited Puntel and it proved to be a great decision for all involved.

“ONU is the perfect distance from home where my parents can come to almost all of my games but still far enough where I can still get the college experience,” Puntel added. “The OAC is such a tough conference to play in.  Every team is very competitive, which makes each game a lot of fun.”

Puntel is a dependable player that can be counted on in the biggest moments.   Her reputation as a smart and hardworking player has allowed her to delivering massive goals in postseason play.  

“My biggest accomplishment this season has to be scoring two goals in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament to take my team to the Sweet 16,” Puntel continued. “As a whole my biggest accomplishment is making it to the OAC finals all three years. It has been an unreal experience.  Every team is a good team, so winning even one game is a huge accomplishment.”

Puntel’s brace against Illinois Wesleyan was one to remember as a pair of Sportscenter Top 10-worthy goals pushed ONU deeper into the tournament.  Everyone was quite impressed, including Puntel herself.  

“It was crazy and overwhelming.  The first goal was by far the best goal I have ever scored in my life and the second I was in the right place at the right time and able to finish it when the time came.  Everyone was so excited for me and for the team to be moving on to the next round.”

All of this success started with her club career at the Internationals.  Puntel credits ISC and the work of Zdravko Popovic for an amazing journey that includes many great memories as she traveled the country for ECNL matches. 

“Internationals was a great preparation for college soccer, sometimes I think it was more challenging than college soccer, especially with the training schedule.  And they were always very supportive of whatever school I was interested in.”

Puntel also credits the Internationals for easing her transition into the collegiate game.

“For me it was a very easy transition.  Playing at such a high level for years made the transition very simple, almost like there was no change other than the girls I was surrounded by. I think playing for the Internationals has been vital for my college success.”

This Internationals SC alum also has a bright future off the pitch. 

“Currently, I am a double major in Business Management and Risk Management & Insurance with a minor in Spanish,” Puntel concluded. “I have been involved in a lot of things in that industry so far gaining a lot of experience and knowledge so I think it will all come down to what interests me the most.” 

Whatever the case, Sarah Puntel has made a name for herself on and off the pitch.  She is certainly someone with a very bright future in soccer and in business.

Popovic knows this better than anyone else. 

“While with Internationals Soccer Club, Sarah’s determination to be the best was seen grinding it out at every practice and game, helping her to be the player she is today. We are so happy for her and proud of her accomplishments on and off the soccer field. Today Sarah is example of what determination, hard work, passion, and a love to play is all about.  It is a process she believes in and I’m confident that her future is bright with best wishes.”

Photo Credit: Touhmong Thao 

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