Women’s soccer preps for playoff run

Tom O’Connor, Women's Soccer Reporter

The Daily Eastern News
Dillan Schorfheide | The Daily Eastern News
Senior Angela Corcoran closes out space on the ball carrier in Eastern’s 3-0 win against Morehead State on Oct. 6th at Lakeside Field.

It might be tempting to make broad assumptions about the first-round matchup between Eastern and Tennessee Tech.

Nothing, not even two overtime periods, could provide any assurances to two teams who have achieved perfection on penalty kicks this season.

A first-round reunion of the Panthers and Eagles in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament will declare a medalist of the season series, perhaps deciding the match through a string of penalty kicks.

Although Tennessee Tech was not necessarily the most gifted team in the conference offensively, the harmony that the Eagles maintained on the offensive side of the field was a stimulus to their growth in the past month.

The Eagles scored more goals in the past month than they had over the entirety of their non-conference schedule, when Tennessee Tech routinely outdid opposing teams with a plethora of shot attempts. And, yet, Tennessee Tech still went on to lose a number of these matches, and these shortages on drives to the net even bled over into a few of the conference matches they played in late September and early October.

On a home stand midway through September, Tennessee Tech yielded 15 more shots than Evansville, six more than Lipscomb and tested in its conference opener, 11 more than Morehead State.

The result?

One tie and two losses.

Then that all changed: The Eagles went on a three-game winning streak in the aftermath of a 1-0 loss to a Belmont team that lost three of its last four.

Eastern reached the apex of its season through consecutive victories, albeit against teams outside the top eight in the conference, before tying or losing to teams the rest of the way.

All soccer coaches settle upon a style that comports with their philosophies of the game.

With that in mind, Eastern’s personnel employ a measured approach to the game that works for them, insofar as they keep possession of the ball and keep the opposing keeper guessing.

The presence of senior Sara Teteak in goal, steadfast in her efforts at getting more saves than any other keeper in the OVC, can ease the pressure on her teammates down the field, allowing them to play with poise.

The one quality defining the style embraced by the Panthers, according to Plant, is the patience they exhibit to make the most reasonable decision under the given circumstances.

“If you are having a bad day, it’s kind of a frustrating way to play because we are never getting to goal, but the way we have scored the last three weeks, it’s exactly what we need to be doing. So being patient is working for us purely because we might not have more than 10 shots a game, but they are 10 legitimate chances that we should be scoring.”

Fourteen Tennessee Tech goals were prefaced by an assist for an average of 1.40 goals per game, good for third best in matches among rival OVC teams.

In possessing one of the top finishers in junior Kendall Powell and facilitators in senior Tina Marolt, this team is one of two teams, the other being Murray State, to carry a top three player in both goals scored and assists in conference matches.

Conversely, the Panthers are last in the conference in terms of shots per game, while the average number of goals produced each match is slightly better at ninth in the OVC.

Plant is quite cognizant of the reality that his team does not take as many shots as others in the league, but he has maintained a rather positive outlook on the quality of shots taken this season.

“I could care less about statistics,” Plant said. “I only care about the score at the end of the game.”

But what failed to distinguish Eastern from Tennessee Tech in their lone matchup this season was nevertheless lucid from a statistical perspective.

Both teams were flawless on penalty kicks, both place the ball in the net at similar rates, both kept opposing teams to the lowest goals against averages in conference matches.

Eastern won three matches on their route to clinching the eighth seed in the final week of the regular season, tied for the lowest victory tally of any playoff team; only the 2008 Panthers made it to the tournament on as few wins-in the history of the program.

In the home finale against the Eagles, senior Sarah DeWolf and junior Haylee Renick goaded Tennessee Tech redshirt junior Isabelle Austin into a precarious situation in the second overtime, firing off two potential game winners on a goalkeeper who finished the season in the top three when it came to shutouts.

If the last match went to overtime, who is to say that it will not conclude on penalty kicks.

“Overtime is one of those, like, if they score, we’re done and then it feels like a disaster, but really it’s just one moment, like (at) SIUE,” Plant said. “The micro details of defending is what really wins you a championship or gets you in the tournament.”

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 [email protected].