STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
From the opening kickoff through much of the first half, it looked as though the Bulldogs had a chance of toppling their Big 12 in-state rivals, the Iowa State Cyclones at home on Sunday.
Drake created plenty of chances in both halves, but their performance was lacking at key moments and the Bulldogs were unable to score throughout the match. Drake fired off 15 shots, five of which were on goal, but most of their attacks didn’t translate into quality shots on target.
“Statistically we were right there except for the scoreline,” head coach Lindsey Horner said. “I just think we have to be harder to score on. Their buildup in their goals wasn’t anything special, just a little lack of focus and silly giveaways and then we’re getting the ball out of the back of our net.”
The Bulldogs pushed hard into Cyclone territory early, firing off several shots in the first 10 minutes of play, but to no avail.
“We just got to focus more on our execution, actually hitting the target … and not putting our heads down even though we keep getting really close chances and not making them,” junior Rebecca Rodgers said.
Iowa State regained control in the 11th minute and moved the ball upfield quickly, with junior forward Koree Willer breaking away behind the Drake defensive line. Willer fired a well-placed shot on goal, beating sophomore goalie Haley Morris to give Iowa State the lead.
Falling behind early in the match cut the Bulldogs’ energy and their aggression slowly tapered off.
“It’s more belief in ourselves,” Rodgers said. “After one misses and another misses then you’re kind of hesitating, so we just need to keep going and not hesitate.”
Rodgers played well throughout the match, tying for the team-high of four shots along midfielder Kayla Armstrong, but was unable to get a shot on net thanks to the Cyclones’ swarming defense and less-than-stellar accuracy.
“When somebody is having a good game like Becca Rodgers did against a Big 12 team, one individual isn’t going to be able to carry us,” Horner said.
The Cyclones struck again just two minutes into the second half. Iowa State freshman forward Emily Steil took a shot that Morris tipped into the crossbar for the save, but Willer sent the rebound into the back of the net to give the Cyclones a 2-0 lead.
Drake would go on to take seven shots in the second half, three of them ending up in the hands of Iowa State’s goalie, and were again left without any points to show for it.
DeHaven took all five of Drake’s corner kicks on the day, but they didn’t end up being a threat to the Cyclone defense.
“It’s just about being kind of tenacious and aggressive in front of goal,” DeHaven said. “We have the ability to do that, we just need to bring it.”
The best chances for the Bulldogs came in the second half. Rodgers careened a shot off the post and missed another just off to the right side of the net after the shot made it past Iowa State’s charging goalie.
The Bulldogs have only been shut out twice this season, but their offense has still struggled overall. They’ve lost four matches by one goal and have only scored more than twice in two games this season – wins against South Dakota and Saint Louis University.
Both Horner and several players blamed a weak mindset for the loss, the team not playing with a drive that could translate into upsets and wins.
“We need to come out with more intensity,” Rodgers said. “We didn’t come out strong in the first half. We didn’t come out strong in the second half. We need to believe that we can beat big teams like this.”
DeHaven reiterated this, feeling demoralized by Drake’s fifth loss in six games.
“It’s tough to swallow,” DeHaven said. “We had the ability to come out harder. We talk about coming out harder and stronger in both halves and when we don’t we’re just really letting ourselves down.”
Drake currently sits second to last overall in the Missouri Valley Conference, but all that matters when it comes to conference play is matches against MVC opponents. Drake will start on the road against Illinois State on Saturday night.
In 2014, the Bulldogs entered conference play with a record of 6-6, considerably better than this year’s 3-6. Drake finished third in the MVC last season and will look to improve on that this time around, but their play will need to make headway quickly if that’s going to be a possibility.
“We need to really understand that our season is now more than halfway over,” DeHaven said. “We can’t keep saying we’ll get it next time.”