Since the outset of the season, the Redbirds soccer team has set its sights on winning the MVC outright, as well as grabbing first in the MVC Tournament.

With the regular season in the books and the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament already underway, members of the team are garnering recognition both on and off the field. Their flawless record in the conference play seals one of these goals, as the team now readies to take on No. 5 Evansville in the MVC tournament on Friday.

“We set our goals before we started; first and foremost we wanted to make sure we got that regular season title. That was something we wanted to prove, and now we’re moving on to the post season,” Head Coach Drew Roff said. “This is what we really prepare for. The high-stakes nature of postseason is winner advance, loser go home. We’re playing some of our best soccer … so we’re looking forward to going down to Evansville and giving it our best.”

Three players on the team — Rachel Tejada, Anna Stinson and Kyla Cross — are also being recognized this month for their achievements in the classroom. Each was named to the Capital One Academic All-District V Team. This honor, which is selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America, is for student-athletes based on their success in both worlds. Each awardee must have at least a 3.30 cumulative GPA and have played in at least half of the possible games in order to be selected. Stinson and Tejada were each named to the first team, while Cross was named to the second team.

“I think our players understand that they’re here at Illinois State to earn a degree, and we take academics very seriously,” Roff said. “I think it’s a credit to all of our former players who set out to set a culture of academic excellence, as well as success on the field. Our current players definitely want to uphold that tradition. It’s such a great opportunity to get an education here at ISU that we want to make sure that our players get the most out of that and work to their potential at all times.”

Tejada is certainly making a name for herself at Illinois State and in The Valley, not only as an outstanding student, but also as a record-setting athlete. She holds a 3.33 cumulative GPA as a biological sciences major, and has held a 3.54 or higher in the last three semesters. Leading the league in points (36), goals (14), assists (8) and shots (72), Tejada leads the MVC in most offensive stats and has made her way into the record books with another season still to play. She holds the Valley record for career points (133), goals (53) and assists (27). She currently holds the ISU record for assists and is half a dozen goals short of grabbing that record as well.

Evansville’s Purple Aces finished the 2013 regular season 9-5-4 overall and 2-3-1 in the conference. They secured the MVC regular season title in 2012, posting a 4-1-1 in conference play. The team returns five of its All-MVC selections from last year’s squad, as well as its top three offensive players. Key to their offensive success has been sophomore forward Kayla Smith, who leads the team in points (14), goals (5) and assists (4). Overall EU has out-shot its opponents (307 to 232) and out-scored its opponents by six goals through the season. Evansville advanced to the semifinal round by defeating No. 4 Missouri State on penalty kicks.

The ’Birds have out-shot and out-scored their opponents this season as well, shooting 265 times compared to opponents’ 208. In terms of goals, they have scored 42 compared to their opponents’ 27. They closed out their season with a flawless record in the MVC, which contributed to their seven-game winning streak. Finishing the regular season with a record of 12-6, they won a bye through the first round of the MVC tournament. ISU soccer has now managed three regular season titles in the last five seasons, as well as three MVC Tournaments since 2009. Winning the MVC Tournament will secure them a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.

“We’re all confident in our abilities, but we always have respect for our opponents,” Roff said. “This time of year, you need to make sure you stay humble and just focus on playing your best soccer. Our team is playing well right now, and we have a leadership that understands how to compete in this type of environment. But we have respect for everybody that we play. Anything can happen on any given day. We know some of the things that Evansville does and we’ll talk about that, but the focus this time of year is really on us. We’ll focus on that, play to our potential and I’m confident we’ll have a good weekend.”

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