3 things to watch for women’s soccer before conference play

Oscar Rzodkiewicz, Assistant Sports Editor

Tom O’Connor | The Daily Eastern News
Nicoletta Anuci chases after a loose ball to get possession back for her team. Eastern lost its home opener 1-0 to Fort Wayne Sunday at Lakeside Field.

The Eastern women’s soccer team is still searching for win No. 1 with OVC play just around the corner.

After four matches, plenty of plot points have sprouted that are worth looking out for from the team that turned a new page last season by making a conference tournament run.

Different faces on the field

Aside from senior goalkeeper Sara Teteak, head coach Jake Plant experimented with 14 different starters in four matches for the Panthers.

The staples appear to come on defense, anchored by senior Lindsey Carlson, junior Eva Munoz and junior Victoria Wharton after the departures of Kayla Stolfa and Kate Olson, who both played in all 20 contests last season.

Senior Rachel Pappas has managed part of the load in relief as well, playing over 55 minutes in at least two of the four affairs this season, after playing in every game in 2018.

On the attack, it’s been much of the same from last season as the team returned all five of its top goal-scorers from a year ago.

One slight difference in the young season has been the presence of junior Haylee Renick who did not play against Milwaukee and was in street clothes on the sidelines during Eastern’s home opener against Fort Wayne.

As of now, there has been no update on Renick’s status, but her return could be a helpful one as Renick led the team in goals last season despite recording just 7 shots on goal.

Freshmen presence

Of the five freshmen on the Panthers’ roster, four picked up significant time in this young campaign.

Freshman Nicoletta Anuci hit the ground running, scoring the Panthers’ first goal of the year against Missouri-Kansas City before serving up an assist to tie the game against Milwaukee a week later.

Hailing from Dayton, Ohio, Anuci amassed All-State honors in all four seasons of high school before her time at Eastern.

Anuci currently leads the team with 3 points and 5 shots on goal.

Freshman Kenzie Balcerak also played early, starting all four matches and playing the full 90 minutes in at least three.

Balcerak took home the Wisconsin Division 1 State Championship in her senior season at Muskego High School.

Freshman Megan Kenny played as a defender and midfielder thus far, picking up 94 minutes in three games played.

Kenny and the rest of the Millard West High School team took home the Nebraska Class A State Championship in her senior season.

Freshman Annette Gomez-Gonzales also got playing time in all four matches this season, including a start against Fort Wayne.

Gomez-Gonzales received all-conference honors in her sophomore, junior and senior seasons during high school.

Gearing up for conference play

A winless start to the season cannot be overlooked for the Panthers, but the team’s game Sunday against Chicago State at 1 p.m. could be a good confidence-booster ahead of OVC play.

Chicago State has yet to score a goal in six matches this season en route to an 0-6 record and a 40-match winless streak dating back to the 2017 season.

Eastern’s opponents this year are a combined 12-2-4 in matches not played against the Panthers, so perhaps the change in competition could bring a change in the win column.

If last year is any indication, Eastern should be fine, as the Panthers downed Chicago State 2-0 with goals coming from Renick and senior Lexi Ketterhagen.

In 2018, Eastern’s OVC slate turned out much more favorably than the team’s non-conference docket, finishing with a .550 conference win percentage despite taking just two matches in ten tries in non-conference play.

Oscar Rzodkiewicz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].