STORY BY COLTON WARREN
Behind a strong offensive performance from senior Ashlie Stokes, the Drake women’s soccer team earned a 3-2 victory over Loyola in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Championship at the Cownie Soccer Complex on Sunday.
Drake wasted no time getting on the board after sophomore Kayla Armstrong scored just 44 seconds into the game on a tight angle shot that bent in over the head of Loyola goalkeeper Monica Gonyo.
“Kayla’s goal gave us momentum and confidence early in the game,” said Drake head coach Lindsey Horner. “We had the wind at our back in the first half against Loyola so we knew we needed goals as the second half would be much more difficult.”
It was Armstrong’s fourth goal of the season, and it set the pace for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs tacked on another in the 22nd minute to stretch their lead to 2-0. Armstrong was in the middle of the scoring, again, as her shot from outside the top of the box was deflected through by sophomore Rebecca Rodgers and on to Stokes, who redirected the ball past Gonyo for her first goal of the game.
Horner was pleased with the way several Bulldogs stepped up in a must-win game.
“We aren’t one-dimensional in our attack, and there isn’t pressure on one player to score goals or carry the team,” Horner said.
The two-goal advantage stood until halftime.
Loyola finally got a goal at the 59:57 mark on a Moriah Shwartz effort that cut the Drake lead in half.
However, the Bulldogs recovered quickly and Stokes netted her second goal of the game just four minutes later.
“Ashlie Stokes is such a powerful player that has done a lot of the dirty work in the midfield for us, like winning balls out of the air,” Horner said. “Her second goal was the best goal she’s scored in a Drake jersey to date. She hit it first time, from outside the box, into a strong wind, using her left foot, and found the low corner of the goal with pace.”
Junior Alex Freeman beat a Loyola defender down the left side and found Stokes in the middle of the field. Stokes didn’t take a touch before sending a low shot on the left side of the net, beating a diving Gonyo for what proved to be the game-winner.
A late surge by the Loyola offense fell short despite Valerie Gonyo adding another tally on a shot from the left side of the box late in the second half. The ball beat Drake keeper Kylynn Moyer to the far side at the 88:02 mark to put the Bulldogs up just one.
Valerie Gonyo recorded a game-high six shots. Stokes led Drake with five shots and moved into third all-time in shots at Drake with 170.
The Bulldogs held on to the one goal lead to knock Loyola out of the MVC tournament for the second straight season.
The win sets Drake up with a semifinal match against Evansville at Illinois State on Friday. Horner said Evansville offers an interesting matchup that will be a lot different from their first game against the Purple Aces on Sept. 28.
“Evansville prides itself on being hard to break down defensively, yet in the last two games we have netted seven goals,” Horner said. “We will have to be ready to be closed down quickly all over the field and maintain composure and possession under pressure.
“We are a different team than we were eight games ago when we played them, in that we have become comfortable adjusting our game plan and style,” Horner said.
Evansville topped Drake 1-0 in the first match.