Top-Seeded Redbirds Set for Valley Tournament
Nov. 7, 2013
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 AcesThe 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
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."
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