After articulating its determination to make up for the conference semifinals loss to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, the Eastern Women’s soccer team’s season opener seemed to place their postseason prospects out of focus.
In fact, the Panthers have not quite begun a season like this ever.
A mere five shots on goal for the Panthers figured into their 6-0 loss to Ball State on Aug. 23, the most lopsided defeat to open the season in program history.
Eastern head coach Jake Plant has ascribed the team’s deficiencies to atypical lapses on drives to the net, which, despite the chain of missteps, do not necessarily spell doom for the continuity of the offense moving forward.
“Uncharacteristic mistakes throughout the game didn’t allow us to get a rhythm in the attacking third of the field,” Plant said. “Very fixable, but we were not able to find the solution during the game.”
Eastern senior Sara Teteak’s three saves tripled that of her Ball State counterpart, yet the Eastern forwards and midfielders could not form enough attacks into the penalty box.
Eight Ball State players to start the match finished with a shot, goal or assist by the final minute, guaranteeing what was the most considerable, and even record shattering, margin of victory in nearly 20 years.
Ball State had not trounced an opponent by six or more goals since Oct. 1, 2001, when the Cardinals routed Taylor 7-0 on the heels of a five-game winning streak.
The ultimate result of the match on Aug. 23 ranked as the third-most decisive win for Ball State on record, sure to validate, to some extent, the predictions of those Mid-American Conference coaches in the preseason poll who expected the Cardinals would finish second.
Sophomore Grace Alsop blasted the ball from the top of penalty box into the top of the net off a pass from Kerrigan Johnson, Alsop’s first of three goals of the match, good for the fifth hat trick all-time for Ball State.
Fewer than 20 minutes later, Ball State sophomore Claudia Como and senior Sam Kambol assisted Tatiana Mason to augment their lead, 2-0.
If the Cardinals’ offensive repertoire exhausted Eastern in the first half, it would not get any less onerous for part two of a shellacking that appeared to be settled at halftime.
“The second half was really where the game turned,” Plant said. “The girls were playing well enough up to the break, but it was important that we improved in the second half, which we didn’t.”
With the offense faltering, Nicoletta Anuci escorted the ball from her foot toward the top left of the net for the only shot on goal for Eastern, still down 4-0 at that point, about 12 minutes into the second half.
But Ball State goalkeeper Tristin Stuteville saved the shot, foiling the Panthers’ only offensive drive in the match that resulted in a shot on goal.
Goals from Tatiana Hawkins-Dabney and Julia Elvbo, together with the two Alsop registered in the second half, insulated the lead for the team’s third consecutive win against the Panthers, a streak that stretches back to 2013.
“We prepare one game at a time and focus a lot on our own tactic,” Plant said. “It is a good wake up call to us as a program.”
Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]