The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

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EIU sees improvements in Oakley’s second year

Sophomore Forward Casey Welage led the team in assists with four. (File)

Eastern men’s soccer showed an improvement in Head Coach Josh Oakley’s second season with the team.

They improved from 1-12-3 to 4-10-5, which is their best since 2019, and their conference record in the conference improved from 0-7-1 to 3-5-2, which is their best since 2000. They also made it to a conference tournament for the first time since 2018 and won in the first round of the conference tournament for the first time since 2007.

“I think the biggest couple things are number one, being able to have a few months, 10 months, to lay down a program philosophy, to lay down a playing style and identity, and to do the first step of getting the right players and the right people here in the program,” Head Coach Josh Oakley said. “That is probably the number one, two, and three reason that we were able to succeed, I would say, quickly. We’re definitely ahead of schedule, but there’s so much more work to do.”

The Panthers had a slow start to the season going 2-8-2 before ending the season on a 2-1-2 run to sneak into the playoffs by one point over Houston Christian University. During those five games they had a streak of four games without a loss, which was the longest stretch since 2009.

“We had highs and lows throughout the season but ended it on a high and compared to the previous couple seasons, definitely a good way to go on about it,” senior defender Maxwell Allen said. “I would say we definitely improved throughout the past couple years, and this is definitely one of our higher seasons.”

Multiple players said that the biggest moment of the season for them was beating Liberty in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on penalty kicks 3-1.

Senior forward Sam Eccles led the team in points (11), goals (four), shots (45), and shots on goal (24). (File)

“I would say the quarterfinals against Liberty after the [penalty kicks] when you feel that you go to the playoffs, and you keep [moving] forward and you keep looking to win,” senior midfielder Felipe Kerr Lourenco said. “It was a pretty good moment. Of course, we had other ones during the season but that one was best one for me.”

“Beating Liberty on pens in the tournament, that has to be one of them,” freshman defender Jake McConnery said.

“I would say getting to the tournament and getting that win in [penalty kicks], that was pretty fun, but yeah getting to the tournament that was a big thing for me,” Allen said.

The biggest theme for this Panthers team was how they played as a whole team, and they weren’t carried by one person. The only person to make an all-OVC team was Sam Eccles, who made the second team.

“It speaks a lot to the team we are though,” Oakley said. “Definitely of the [teams] that competed in the semifinal, honestly of all the [teams] that made it to the tournament, we were by far the lowest in terms of players that were recognized for their individual abilities. I think while that is challenging and a little bit disappointing, it’s also very freeing to say we’re not based on a set player, or two, or four players or whatever. We are a true team, so that is a big part of the philosophy and the team identity, that we always want to have going forward.”

One player that will not be returning to the Panthers because he is out of eligibility is Allen. There is a sign in the locker room that says, “Leave the program in a better place than you found it.” Allen said he felt like he did the best he could to fulfill that.

“I feel like I just did my part, I wouldn’t say the improvement really just came down all to me,” Allen said. “It came down to everyone around me wanting to achieve that same goal, but it does make me happy that I was able to do my part in everything, knowing I put everything out there that I was able to and do the best I could.”

Eastern’s statistical leaders at the end of the season are Eccles, who led the team in points (11), goals (four), shots (45), and shots on goal (24), sophomore midfielder Casey Welage who led the team in assists with four, and McConnery who led the team in minutes with 1,609.

Freshman defender Jake McConnery led the team in minutes played with 1,609. (File)

Junior goalkeeper Chad Smith had a career year with 52 saves (second highest of his career), 1.11 goals against average (lowest of his career by 1.45 goals), five shutouts (most in a season for Eastern since 2019), and his second-highest saves in a game with 11.

“During preseason we emphasized the fact on defending throughout all portions of the field and I thought we did that very well,” Allen said. “You can see throughout the end of the season us having a lot of clean sheets and not a lot of goals conceded so that really shows how well and emphasis on how hard we wanted to defend.”

After his second season Oakley feels proud of what the team did but knows that there is more they can improve on for the next season.

“We’ve made a step,” Oakley said. “I think it’s a good step, a small step. I don’t know that I feel any type of way really just other than there’s a lot more to do, there’s a lot more to do at EIU. Can’t stop until we break through and do some more things.”

Luther Yoder can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Luther Yoder, Assistant Sports Editor
Luther Yoder is a sophomore journalism major. This is his first year at The News.

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