The winning culture that the Illinois State University soccer team has built up over the past few years is unmatched when compared to the other programs of the MVC. For the fourth consecutive year, No. 1 ISU has been crowned MVC Champion after defeating No. 2 Evansville Sunday, 2-1, in the MVC Championship game.

It was a story of two halves during the championship match at Adelaide Street Field. A physical and defensive game throughout, nothing came easily for either team. The first half was an offensive struggle for the Redbirds as shots were hard to come by. Whenever the Redbirds would try to get any offensive rhythm going, the Aces stopped the attack with physical play and filling the box to prevent any chances. The teams entered halftime scoreless with an even 6-6 shot total.

Head coach Drew Roff turned it around at halftime and was able to get his team to concentrate on what they needed to do.

“On one hand we want our team to be more aggressive and win the 50/50 balls, but at the same time we want to be nice and composed,” Roff said. “It’s a tough dynamic to this game but we did a much better job in the second half; we were finally winning the loose balls. We knocked the ball around a lot better. Our passes were crisp and controlled.”

The Aces came out strong the first five minutes of the second half. Minutes into the second half, Alyse Williams fumbled the ball while Aces forward Montana Portenier took advantage and was off for a one-on-one breakaway. Portenier rushed her shot, which rolled wide left away from goalkeeper Aryn Newsom. Following the breakaway scare, the Redbirds picked up their game and brought an unmatched intensity to the field.

Just minutes later, senior captain Rachel Tejada found herself in the right place at the right time. Situated on the right side of the penalty box, Tejada blasted the ball past UE and All MVC First Team goalkeeper Simone Busby scoring the game’s first goal in the 53rd minute. It was Tejada’s 18th goal of the season and fifth of the MVC Tournament.

“Controlling the middle was our main key,” Dagny Olson, midfielder, said. “We were a little nervous at the beginning but we finally played like how we normally do, we got the job done. Rachel [Tejada] and Hannah [Leinert] were able to finish and do what they do best.”

The goal brought ISU back to life and momentum shifted towards the Redbirds. ISU dominated the Evansville midfield, winning many loose balls and controlling possession. Whenever Evansville seemed to put on any type of attack, defender Sara Stankoskey stopped any threat along with the rest of the Redbird midfield and defense.

“Sara [Stankoskey] and Abby [Van Deventer] were absolute rocks back there,” Roff said. “Our defenders are tough as nails, they finish the job and get the ball out of there.”

The Redbirds offense was on the attack again just a few minutes later. After receiving the ball on the left side of the box, Hannah Leinert juked past two Evansville defenders and blasted the ball past Busby to increase the ISU lead 2-0.

“We kept pushing and playing our game,” Leinert said. “Once we cleaned up our game and started connecting on our passes, our game flowed more. We got better passes off and were able to take good shots.”

In the 75th minute, Evansville midfielder Colleen Dierkes slipped the ball past Newsom off of a free kick, trimming the ISU lead 2-1. Following the goal, Evansville pushed hard for an equalizer but the ISU defense would not give up anything.

ISU had a 7-2 shots on goal advantage while also holding an 8-1 corner kick advantage.

The win gives ISU its sixth MVC Tournament title, with its last four coming consecutively. It was the first time in program history that ISU was able to win the tournament in front of its home crowd at Adelaide Street Field.

“Our senior group is amazing. They have great leadership and so much experience,” Olson said. “They’ve instilled a lot of great values in us, to send them out of here like that with the programs fourth consecutive MVC Championship is nothing but deserving.”

With the win, ISU is given an automatic NCAA Tournament berth, which begins next week.

“Going forward, we’re going to play our hardest,” Roff said. “We’re going to do our best to represent ISU and the MVC. Whoever our next opponent is will have a tough showing, we’re going to bring the effort.”

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