Heading into Illinois State soccer’s match against Illinois-Chicago just over a week ago, sophomore Mikayla Unger had yet to score a goal throughout the season after being named to the Missouri Valley Conference Preseason All-Conference team.
Now, she has three in her last three matches, including a pair of scores in ISU’s 5-3 victory over Loyola Wednesday night at Adelaide Street Field.
Senior Emily Dickman, sophomore Kate Del Fava and freshman Natalie Vaughn-Low also scored in the Redbirds’ fifth straight win. ISU’s five goals were the most they have scored in a match so far this season.
Unger had not scored a goal in her first 11 matches this season after netting five in 2016, which led her to a MVC Freshman of the Year award. Now with three on the year after also scoring in last week’s 4-1 win over UIC, Unger is starting to re-emerge as one of the Redbirds’ key contributors on offense.
“We’ve been trying me out in a few different positions,” Unger said. “Last year, I played primarily out wide and teams have kind of caught on to my style of play, and so just being able to figure out different ways around that, different ways to make it harder to defend me. I’ve been playing more centrally sometimes and also being pushed out wide, so just varying where I play on the field has helped.”
With mist occasionally appearing throughout the match, ISU (8-5-2, 2-1 MVC) found themselves in an early 1-0 deficit when Loyola sophomore Sienna Cruz scored at 12:37. After having multiple scoring chances, however, the Redbirds eventually responded.
At 31:18, Unger scored after breaking through the defense thanks to a pass from Dickman to tie the match at 1-1. Just over two minutes later, Dickman became the scorer.
After receiving a pass in the box from senior Kelli Zickert, Dickman shot the ball to the left side of the net at 33:43 for what was also her third goal in three games after she scored two against UIC.
Illinois State’s 2-1 lead would only last for less than five minutes when Loyola senior Katie Grall scored her eighth goal of the season at 38:06. Both teams entered the half tied at two.
“The first half was really messy in my eyes,” ISU coach Brad Silvey said. “Very back and forth. We outshot them. I thought we out possessed them and outplayed at times within the first half. But we just didn’t do a great job of dealing with the space in-between our backs and our midfield line as well as support clearances. And we were hesitant.”
Unger got the Redbirds back on track quickly in the second half. On an attack towards the net, freshman Sarah Lafayette’s cross missed Zickert in the goal area, but found Unger who scored at 46:34 to put ISU ahead 3-2.
The match remained competitive until 67 minutes in when the Redbirds took off. Del Fava, who just won the MVC Defensive Player of the Week honor, scored her first goal of the season at 67:12 after getting a pass in the goal area from Zickert.
34 seconds later, Vaughn-Low scored the first goal of her collegiate career when she beat Loyola senior goalkeeper Maddie Ford to a loose ball on a fast break. ISU now had a 5-2 lead.
Those two goals became more significant when Cruz scored her second goal of the match for Loyola at 83:09. Despite more attacks from the Ramblers in the final minutes, the Redbirds held on to move into a tie for third place in the MVC.
There was also a sense of accomplishment out-scoring an offensive team like Loyola, whose 48 goals entering the match were the third most in the country.
“Conceding three [goals] was not ideal,” Silvey said. “That was never a part of the game plan, so we’re going to have to tidy some things up in the back but, all in all, we’re happy. Loyola is a tough team. That’s one of the top scoring teams in the country, so we’re happy with the result.”
After playing four of its last five matches at home, ISU hits the road for its next game at 6 p.m. on Saturday against Indiana State.