Season Recap: ISU Wins MVC Tournament, 13 Games for Second-Straight Year
Sophomore Rachel Tejada was named the MVC Player of the Year for the second-straight season, as she totaled 46 points on 18 goals and 10 assists

Sophomore Rachel Tejada was named the MVC Player of the Year for the second-straight season, as she totaled 46 points on 18 goals and 10 assists

Dec. 18, 2012

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NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State soccer team concluded 2012 the same way it did 2011, with a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title and 3-0 loss in the NCAA Tournament. However, the journey this year's team took throughout the season was drastically different than its predecessor's.

After dominating the Missouri Valley Conference with a record-setting offense in 2011, goals were more difficult to come by for the Redbirds in 2012. The squad scored more than three goals just three times, after doing it ten times in 2011. However, the Redbirds still managed to win 13 games for the second-straight season, due in large part to their ability to win close games, as the team set a program-record with 10 one-goal wins.

"Looking back on the season as a whole, it was very successful," head coach Drew Roff said, who completed his sixth season at the helm of the Redbirds. "We won a lot of games and a lot of very close games, which shows a lot of character from our girls."

Sophomore Rachel Tejada picked up right where she left off in 2011 to begin 2012, scoring the Redbirds' first three goals of the season. Tejada netted both goals in a season-opening 2-1 win at Southeast Missouri State Aug. 17, and scored on a penalty kick in the Redbirds' 1-1 draw against No. 19 Illinois. The match against the Illini drew a record 1,085 fans to Adelaide Street Field.

"I'm thrilled," Roff said at the time about the attendance record. "Our players work so hard and do so many great things on the field, in the classroom and in the community. For them to look over there and see those types of numbers is tremendous for them and for our program."

Next, the Redbirds headed south to take part in the Embassy Suites Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. ISU defeated Florida Atlantic 7-0 in the first match, before Tejada scored twice in the second half against Atlantic Sun-champion Florida Gulf Coast to earn a 2-2 draw.

Hurricane Isaac pushed the latter match up by two hours, and caused the Redbirds a circuitous travel route home. It was the second-straight year the Redbirds had to deal with a hurricane, as Hurricane Irene affected their trip to Boston the previous year.

"Last year, we went through the same thing and dealt with it, and we ended up having a pretty good ending to the season," Roff joked at the time. "Hopefully it's a sign of good things to come."

The Redbirds extended their season-opening unbeaten streak to five with a 1-0 win over Northern Illinois Aug. 31. However, two-straight losses followed, 2-1 at home to Western Michigan Sept. 2 and 3-2 in double overtime at No. 15 Wisconsin Sept. 9, to put ISU at 3-2-2 after the season's first month.

Road wins over Bowling Green and Toledo, combined with a home triumph over Green Bay, formed what would be the Redbirds' second-longest winning streak of the season. The squad appeared to be peaking as it prepared to open its MVC Conference title defense at Evansville.

However, the Purple Aces handed the Redbirds their worst conference loss since 2008, winning 4-1 on Sept. 23.

"Conference play is big for us, and that is what we prepare for," Roff said following the defeat. "We are going to have to look at why we did not have a better performance today."

An intense week of preparation focusing on bouncing back at Creighton Sept. 29 followed. After 89 minutes of back-and-forth soccer in Omaha, Tejada netted a game-winner to give the Redbirds a much-needed 2-1 victory.

After a 1-0 win over Loyola Chicago Oct. 3, the Redbirds had another conference setback, this time a 2-1 loss at home to Northern Iowa. At 8-4-2 overall and 1-2-0 in the conference, the Redbirds had work to do to even ensure a spot in the MVC Tournament.

"We can't feel sorry for ourselves, and we need to come ready to play right from the kick-off," Roff said before the Redbirds' next match against Indiana State Oct. 14. "We still haven't played to our potential for a 90-minute game, and that is the goal right now."

Roff's Redbirds brought the 90-minute game he wanted on Senior and Heidecke Day at Adelaide Street Field, as Illinois State scored a program-record nine goals in a 9-2 win over the Sycamores. Kyla Cross also set a new high by scoring four goals in the match.

"Senior and Heidecke Day made it a great day to be on the field," Cross said after the match. "We only have two games left in the season now, and we needed this win to get back into the conference mix. It was awesome. The team finally clicked."

The Redbirds continued their good play in their next two matches, beating Missouri State, 1-0, at home on Oct. 21 before concluding the regular season with a 2-1 win at Drake Oct. 25, earning a bye in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament as the second seed.

In the semifinals, Illinois State met tournament-host Creighton. The match played out similarly to the first, with it being tied 1-1 as the game wound down. Once again, Tejada secured the game-winner, this time in the 81st minute, to put the Redbirds through to the championship match.

"It was a special performance from Rachel tonight," head coach Roff said following the match. "We were not creating a ton of chances, and we had a little bit of trouble keeping the ball. It wasn't our finest performance, so we needed someone to step up and make plays. That's what Rachel does."

No. 5-seed Indiana State upset regular-season champions Evansville in the semifinals, setting up a rematch for the tournament title. The Redbirds jumped out early again against the Sycamores, scoring three first-half goals en route to a 5-1 win, and their second-straight MVC Tournament crown.

"We had some challenges and setbacks this year, but I give our girls a ton of credit for sticking together," head coach Roff said after the celebration. "Here we are again, back-to-back champions. It's never easy to repeat, because everybody is gunning for you. I'm really proud of our effort, and I am really excited for them to get another chance to go to the NCAA Tournament."

The Redbirds would head up to Milwaukee, Wis., for a second-straight year in the NCAA Tournament, this time to take on fourth-seeded and 12th-ranked Marquette. The Golden Eagles were coming off of their first-ever BIG EAST Tournament title and riding a 14-game unbeaten streak. Despite a hard-fought effort, Marquette proved too much for the Redbirds to handle, as ISU's season ended with a 3-0 loss.

"Our girls battled, worked hard, and gave it all they had," Roff said following the defeat. "It just wasn't enough tonight. We're keeping our heads help up high. We lost to a great team. To win this one, we had to really play well and get some breaks, but that didn't happen tonight."

Tejada's sensational sophomore campaign earned her the MVC Player of the Year award for the second-straight season. Tejada also earned NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region Second Team accolades, with senior back Kristin Cooley landing on the third team. Cooley, Tejada and junior Anna Stinson were named All-MVC First Team performers, with senior Rachel Bostick being voted to the second team and Cross grabbing honorable mention honors. Lauren Koehl and Alyse Williams rounded out the individual awards for the Redbirds, as they each landed on the All-Valley Freshman squad.

Cooley and Bostick, along with fellow seniors Sarah Carlson, Mara Kremenovic, Kelly Rosenthal and Heather Sterling, became the winningest class under Roff with 47-career victories. They also became the only group in program-history to win three MVC Tournament titles and make three NCAA Tournament appearances.

Despite their departure, the Redbirds are already looking towards 2013 with anticipation. ISU will return eight of 11 starters from the final match of 2012, and five of its top six offensive performers.

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