After Eastern women’s soccer’s final home match of the season, a 1-1 tie against Tennessee Tech (6-7-5, 4-3-3 OVC), head coach Jake Plant said the goal of each season is to get the team to hit its highest level of play right before the OVC tournament.
Perhaps the Panthers have, but after a modest final regular season weekend, Eastern (3-9-4, 2-5-3 OVC) finds itself taking on that same Golden Eagles squad in the first round of the conference playoffs on Friday at 7 p.m., and the team needs to prove that adage to be true.
The Panthers got two road match ups to close out the regular season against Austin Peay (4-9-4, 3-5-2 OVC) and Murray State (11-7, 8-2 OVC), forcing a 1-1 tie against the Governors before falling to the Racers 1-0 and being outshot 44-17 between the two slates.
That one point from the tie against Austin Peay gave Eastern just enough of a boost to make it to the no. 8 seed in the OVC tournament, but whether the team has truly peaked may be in question.
Last season, the Panthers went 2-1-1 in their final four conference match ups prior to downing Southeast Missouri in the quarterfinals of the OVC tournament in front of blue and grey stands at Lakeside Field.
This season, though, Eastern hits the road without a bye in the first round, coming in at 0-2-2 in its final four conference match ups and without a win since Oct. 6.
That’s not to say the team is less equipped or even has any less momentum in terms of its play, but other conference squads are proving to hit their strides results-wise.
For example, Southern Illinois Edwardsville (8-5-4, 5-2-3 OVC), the team the Panthers will face if they get past Tennessee Tech, currently rides a six-match streak without a loss and three straight shutout wins into the OVC tournament.
The good news for Eastern is that its opponent on Friday isn’t flying much higher, as the Golden Eagles are just 1-2-1 in their final four conference match up with their lone win coming against last place Jacksonville State 1-0, a team Eastern defeated 3-1 earlier this season.
The bad news for the Panthers is that they also are winless in eight matches away from Lakeside Field this season–though, it’s worth noting Eastern did not play a neutral site match, like this first round match up, in 2019.
There seems to be many different avenues to explore in terms of Eastern’s production heading into the conference postseason, but one thing is certain: if the team is peaking right now like Plant wants them to be, then there’s no reason the Panthers can’t make some noise just like last year.
Oscar Rzodkiewicz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]