Top-Seeded Redbirds Set for Valley Tournament

Nov. 7, 2013

MVC Semifinals: No. 1 Illinois state at No. 5 evansville
Date: Nov. 8
Time: 6 p.m. CT
Location: Evansville, Ind. (McCutchan Stadium)
Game Notes: Illinois State
Listen: (Casey Richards | Play-by-Play) - WZND 103.3 FM, AudioNow (213-493-0196)
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter: @ISU_Soccer

NORMAL, Ill. - The top-seeded Illinois State soccer team (12-6-0, 6-0-0 MVC) will begin its quest for a third-straight Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title with a semifinal match at fifth-seeded and tournament-host Evansville (9-5-4, 2-3-1 MVC), Friday at 6 p.m., CT.

It has already been a successful season for head coach Drew Roff's team, featuring a MVC regular-season title and perfect Valley mark. Any hopes the Redbirds have of making a third-straight NCAA Tournament hinge on their performance this weekend, however, a situation Roff believes his team is ready for.

"This is what we prepare all year for; our final exam, if you will," Roff said. "A lot of work goes into it. We've had a very successful season up to this point. I've really enjoyed the journey, but now we get to test ourselves in a very high-stakes environment. If you win, you keep going, if you lose, you go home. That's the type of pressure every team will have, and we try to embrace that. Our goal is to go out and play our best soccer, and if we do that, we will be in good shape."

The win or go home stakes are particularly motivational for ISU's three seniors - Kyla Cross, Allie Newsom and Anna Stinson. The trio can become just the second senior class in program-history to win three titles with two victories this weekend.

"We know that this could be our last game," Cross said. "This could be it for us. I know the three of us have that in our minds, and that we are going to play as hard as we can play. The team has been working really hard for us throughout the season, and we want to go out with a victory. We're all going to try our best to do that."

Scouting the Purple Aces

The Purple Aces have gone winless in their last six matches, a stretch that dates back to an Oct. 6 victory at Northern Iowa, but advanced to Friday's semifinal match by defeating fourth-seeded Missouri State in penalty kicks, 6-5, Sunday. UE built upon its surprise MVC regular-season title in 2012 by jumping out to a 9-2-1 start, before going through its current winless skid and falling to 9-5-4.

The Purple Aces have been struggling to score since Kayla Smith, who leads the team with 14 points, five goals and four assists, went down with a season-ending knee injury five games ago. UE snapped a five-game stretch in which it didn't score a goal by finding the back of the net once Thursday against MSU, when Emily Richardson scored her second goal of the season.

Lauren Tiernan, Stephanie Thompson and Abby Springer have each scored three times for the Purple Aces, while
Bronwyn Boswell, Emily Griebel and Richardson have each tallied twice. Tiernan is the only UE player with double-digit assists (two) aside from Smith.

Leading Evansville this season has been a stingy defense that has surrendered just 15 goals all year. The unit is anchored by junior Taylor Brand, who was an All-MVC Second Team selection last season and has been named the MVC Defensive Player of the Week five times this year. Sophomore goalkeeper Simone Busby has been vital to UE allowing a league-best 0.83 goals per game, as the 2012 MVC Goalkeeper of the Year has posted a .844 saves percentage.

The Redbirds lead the all-time series against the Purple Aces, 11-7-3. ISU won this year's regular-season match, 4-0 on Oct. 20. The Purple Aces won the last meeting at McCutchan Stadium, however, beating the Redbirds, 4-1, last season. The last time the two teams met in the MVC Tournament was in 2011, with the Redbirds taking the semifinal match, 6-0.

"It's our second time playing Evansville, so I'm sure they will make some adjustments and try to do some things differently," Roff said. "We finished some chances against them earlier this season, but we know they have strong defending and goalkeeping. We definitely don't take anything for granted, and it is going to be a great challenge to break them down."

Quick Kicks

  • TEJADA CONTINUES TO SHINE: Two-time MVC Player of the Year Rachel Tejada leads the conference in most major offensive categories, and has climbed to the top of the Valley and Redbird record books in just her third season. Tejada leads the league in points (36), goals (14), assists (8) and shots (72). Her 133-career points on 53 goals and 27 assists are a Valley record, which she eclipsed with a goal at Missouri State, Oct. 31. She also became ISU's all-time assists leader earlier this season, and is six goals shy of the all-time Valley and program record.
  • VALLEY SUCCESS: With Sunday's win over Drake, seventh-year Illinois State head coach Drew Roff improved his record against MVC opponents to 32-7-3 (.800). Dating back to last season, the Redbirds have won 10-straight matches against Valley teams, with their last loss coming Oct. 10, 2012.
  • DOMINATING "D": The Redbird defense allowed a league-low two goals in MVC games, including four-straight shutouts from Oct. 13-Oct. 27. Backs Gabbi McArtor, Rhianna Krutz and Abby Van Deventer have played all 90 minutes in the last five games, while goalkeeper Aryn Newsom has been steady in goal, posting a league-best 0.33 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in Valley games.
  • SPREADING THE WEALTH: Illinois State's 42 goals and 2.33 goals per game average are both best in the MVC, due in large part to a diverse offensive attack. A Valley-best 12 players have recorded at least one point, including 10 with at least four, while nine players have scored goals. Rachel Tejada (14), Hannah Leinert (10), Dagny Olson (6) and Kyla Cross (5) have all found the back of the net at least five times.
  • "CROSS"ING THE COMPETITION: Known more for her goal-scoring ability coming into 2013 (eight in each of the past two seasons), senior forward Kyla Cross has assumed more of a playmaker role this season. Cross is tied for the MVC-lead with a career-high eight assists, to go along with five goals.
  • BATTLE TESTED: The Redbirds are hoping a tough non-conference schedule will pay dividends in the postseason. ISU went 2-3 against teams that made the 2012 NCAA Tournament, notching wins over Miami (Ohio) and No. 22 Marquette, and 2-5 against "power conference" teams, adding a win against TCU to the triumph over MU. The Golden Eagles have not lost since falling to the Redbirds, and enter the week ranked third in the RPI.
  • DIAPER DANDY: Redbird freshman Hannah Leinert has significantly bolstered the ISU offense in her first season, as she ranks second in the conference with 26 points and 10 goals. She leads the league with 14 points and six goals in Valley action, and has recorded at least one point in all five conference games she played in, scoring goals in four of them. Your online source for Illinois State Athletics, tickets, Weisbecker Scholarship Fund gifts, multimedia, Redbird merchandise, photos and more.