Last year it was the semifinals. This year, the quarterfinals.
Eastern parlayed a fairly strong offensive outing in the double overtime tie against Tennessee Tech into a 2-0 victory in the opening round of the conference tournament.
The Eastern performance in its first round win epitomized coach Plant’s mantra for the 2019 season: to keep on doing what they’ve been doing.
But that constant refrain only took them so far.
Eager to be the first Eastern team to be crowned OVC tournament champion since 2004, an early first half SIUE goal dashed those aspirations for now.
Departing one season and preparing for the next, the Eastern coaching staff will be tasked with filling the spot vacated by their starting goalkeeper Sara Teteak, recognized as perhaps the most elite player at her position, who trails Tiffany Groene and Williams on the Eastern all-time list for most shutouts.
Of the three Eastern players to be considered top-20 facilitators in OVC matches, two of them, Ixtaso Aguero and Lexi Ketterhagen, will not be on the roster when the team opens the 2020 season.
For the Panthers to hold some semblance of the team they have become over the past two seasons, and make the playoffs for the third consecutive year for the first time in nearly a decade, they would need to pull of the sort of recruitment gymnastics that the Eastern coaching staff managed in the 2011 offseason.
After the Panthers lost to Morehead State in the semifinal on an own goal, some might have presumed that the attainments of the 2010 Panthers would be blemished by the roster turnover expected to unfold in the ensuing months.
The coaching staff hauled in two freshman forwards, four midfielders and two defenders, additions that propelled the Panthers to a third OVC tournament in as many seasons. And both the 2010 and 2019 teams share the same offseason needs. Both Teteak and Kaylin Lorbert, the goalkeeper of the 2010 team, were bona fide stars for their respective squads. Lorbert, who is tied with Teteak for most shutouts in a season, was part of the mass exodus that came with the loss to Morehead State.
Lorbert completed the season with the second most proficient save percentage in the OVC, and she even secured the most shutouts in the OVC, not unlike Teteak who finished at the top in the same statistic this season.
The coaching staff gambled on Jessica Taldone as the starting keeper, just a year removed from a freshman season in which she did not play, and the results were fairly promising.
Overall, three of the eight players that signed with the program in the aftermath of the 2010 season arrived from out of state. Eastern took these new arrivals to the first round of the conference tournament. That playoff berth came on the heels of losing Kaitlin Sullivan, a 2010 OVC second team selection, Sarah Rusk, one of the members of the OVC All-Tournament team and Lorbert, who was tapped for the OVC first team.
Replacements, coupled with some pieces they already had in place, were found for Rusk and Sullivan that resuscitated the offense. The Panthers will need a similar transition to unfold with players like Ketterhagen, Aguero and Sara DeWolf on their way out, especially if they are to make the playoffs, consistent with how their predecessors did in 2011, despite the roster turnover.
As the Panthers, bent on restoring the culture that brought them to the doorstep of the conference finals again, retool at nearly every position, they can aim for the playoffs for the third straight year, acknowledging that, yes, it has been done before.
Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]