Photo by Cassandra Bauer
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE BY ADAM ROGAN
The conference season has been a slog for Drake Women’s Soccer (9-4-2, 0-3-1 MVC). After starting the season undefeated through eight games, the Bulldogs have yet to register a victory after four Missouri Valley Conference matches.
The Bulldogs were handed their third conference loss by the MVC-leading Illinois State Redbirds (9-5-2, 3-0-1 MVC) on Oct. 15 in a back-and-forth, rainy, nighttime home match
The intermittent drizzle slowed the game’s pace of play after the opening kickoff. Players on both sides slipped more often than the norm and had to adjust for the ball to roll a little differently on the slick grass.
There wasn’t even a shot until the 11th minute, but it picked up from there on out as the teams combined for 22 shots with 16 on goal.
Drake’s goalkeeper, senior Brooke Dennis, ended up recording a season-high six saves, but that wouldn’t be enough to hold off Illinois State’s goal scoring.
The Bulldogs struck first, however, when an attempted Illinois State clearance deflected off of a Redbird midfielder. The loose ball fell in front of Drake senior Kayla Armstrong who beat the keeper with a ground shot that collided off the right post and in, her fourth goal of the season.
Less than five minutes later, the Redbirds had tied the match. They’d gotten the ball into the box and redshirt-senior Lauren Koehl took a shot. It looked as though the ball would sail wide, but it deflected off of a Bulldog defender and into the goal.
With just over 10 minutes left in the half, ISU took the lead when junior Kelli Zickert scored on shot taken from well outside of the box. Dennis was late reacting to the ball and it slipped into the lower-left corner of the net.
In the 51st minute, an extraordinary personal effort from Drake sophomore Alyssa Brand tied the match at two. She harassed a Redbird ball handler in the attacking third, stole possession, dribbled towards Illinois State’s backline, found an opening and curled the ball into the upper 90 from outside of the box with her left foot.
Brand now leads the team with five goals and 11 points in 2016.
Four minutes later, Armstrong — who played a season-high 80 minutes — nearly had a repeat of her first goal after controlling another failed clearance. But her shot, again aimed at the right post, missed wide.
Only three minutes after that miss, a goal from senior defender Sarah Grace Nicholson was revoked because she was offsides.
“The number of times we got within 12 yards of their goal was quite high,” head coach Lindsey Horner said, “and it just didn’t really bounce our way … Our players did everything except finish.”
Within a minute, ISU had gotten the ball into Drake’s box and retaken the lead, again on a shot that would’ve gone wide but collided with a Bulldog and bounced into the net.
“You kind of coach (your players) to throw your body at the ball as opposed to ducking,” Horner said, “and sometimes it just bounces the wrong way.”
The end of the match was not short on Drake chances — the Bulldogs took six of its 12 shots in the last 30 minutes — but they were unable to capitalize and tie the match.
The rain worked to Illinois State’s advantage as the Redbirds tried to run out the clock by kicking the ball deep into Drake’s territory or out of bounds for throw-ins. The Bulldogs had difficulty responding as ball handlers were swamped by ISU defenders and passes found their mark less often than they had earlier in the match.
“In moments like that at the end of the game, the other team is just looking to … waste time,” junior midfielder Brooke Salisbury said. “We just have to stay composed, stay on the ball, play to feet; just try to make the most of our chances.”
If the regular season were to end today, Drake would not qualify for the MVC tournament, something that has never happened in the team’s 14-year history.
There are only two conference matches left — Oct. 22 vs. Missouri State and Oct. 27 at Loyola. Should the Bulldogs win both of those matches they still wouldn’t be guaranteed a seed in the MVC Tournament, but their chances would be significantly improved with victories.
“Everyone here has worked all season and this team deserves to be there,” Armstrong said. “We have it in us, but we just have to grind out a win.”
“I can’t complain about any of my teammates,” Salisbury added. “Everyone has given a great effort. Everyone has left it all on the field. We just haven’t been able to put it away. It’s been bad luck, I’d say.”
Drake will travel to Ames, Iowa, for the final nonconference match of the regular season against Iowa State University before returning home the following Saturday for Alumni Night against Missouri State.