|Redbird soccer kicks off ‘09 campaign with renewed hunger|
|Written by Scott Gleeson, Daily Vidette Sports Editor|
|Sunday, 16 August 2009 20:48|
Two seasons of coming oh-so-close have left a sour taste with Redbird women’s soccer coach Drew Roff.
He wasn’t the only one disgruntled this offseason.
Following two straight seasons that saw the ISU soccer team fall short of reaching the NCAA Tournament, the Redbirds have been licking their chops for the 2009 campaign to begin.
“Because of the sour taste that we had at the end of last season, I think that’s going to make us aim even higher than we did last year because we know how close we were,” junior mid fielder Ruthie Zempke said. “We’re aiming as high as possible because we don’t want to fall short again.”
Despite winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title the past two seasons, the Redbirds have been unable to win the conference tournament and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
ISU has only won the Valley Tournament title once in its history, coming in 2003.
Last season, Illinois State garnered a No. 2 seed in the Valley tournament after finishing as co-regular season champs. But No. 6-seeded Indiana State ousted the Redbirds, scoring a goal with less than five minutes left to break a scoreless tie and move on to the MVC Tournament championship.
“The season ended on a bit of a sour note,” Roff said. “We lost our final game to a team [Indiana State] that we beat pretty soundly a couple weeks prior. We certainly aren’t going to dwell on that because it’s a new season, but at the same time, I want our returning players to remember that game and what it felt like.”
Indiana State’s upset victory over ISU spoiled any chances for vengeance from the previous season. In 2007, the ‘Birds were ranked No. 1 in the MVC Tournament, but No. 3-seeded Creighton ended ISU’s season with a 4-3 victory in penalty kicks.
“Each year, we’ve done what we need to do in the [regular] season, but we need to finish in the [MVC] tournament so we can finally go to the NCAA Tournament and actually show teams that once we beat them once, we can do it again,” said senior Danielle Mutters, returning as the MVC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
The ‘Birds only lost one senior from an ’08 squad that finished 11-8-1. With seven seniors and an experience-heavy roster, Roff believes the tools are in place to get over the hump.
“Last year we had a team that was a young team, but came together in the end,” he said. “Our maturity wasn’t what it needed to be. Experience and maturity are things you only get with time.” “The key is peaking at the right time and finishing strong. We know we have to take a lot of little steps to get to that goal, but come three months from now, we want to be playing great soccer and be the best team in the conference at that point.”
Last season, the Redbirds were forced to play a bulk of inexperienced players in pivotal stretches. After competing with eachother for all of the spring season, Roff is doubtful his team will find itself in the same dilemma.
“It’s a completely different scenario than last season at this time,” he said.
Defense appears to be an obvious strength for the ‘Birds. However, offense posts question marks after losing Mel Routledge, one of the leading goal scorers in ISU history.
“Overall, as they all say, defense wins championships. That is very true in this game,” Roff said. “Defense is something that is consistent and always there, so we’re definitely looking to shut down teams. But, the one thing you always wonder is where your goals are going to come from. We have some players that can step in but that’s something they’ll have to prove for us to be a tough team.” Since Roff’s arrival at Illinois State in 2007, the Redbird soccer team has compiled back-to-back MVC regular season titles. Roff has been pleased, but assures he’s far from satisfied.
“One of my goals when I took over the program was to really kind of put Illinois State on the map, regionally and nationally,” he said. “That’s the next step in our program.
“This year, I’m very optimistic of what this season can bring. I don’t have a crystal ball of what we’re going to win, but I know what we’re going to shoot for. Regardless of wins, losses, things like that, I think we have the capability to play at the highest level of any team since I’ve been here.”