For the second time this season, the Loyola Ramblers defeated the Illinois State University Redbirds 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Soccer Championship Game on Sunday.

The Ramblers secured an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Illinois State’s head coach Brad Silvey spoke about the difficulty of the game.

“It was a tough game,” Silvey said, “We knew Loyola was going to be incredibly quick and strong, and athletic. We had a good game plan in place ... we weren’t able to execute the way that we needed to play in order to deal with the pressure that Loyola was bringing.”

Loyola’s senior midfielder Sienna Cruz scored in the 40th minute to make it 1-0.

At halftime, Loyola led in shots 14-2. The Ramblers also generated more corners (7-0) and forced ISU’s senior goalkeeper Haley Smith to make five first-half saves.

In the second half, junior midfielder Lindsey Hardiman made the score 2-0 with a goal in the 55th minute. In the second half, both teams shot three times. Loyola again led in corners (3-1) and controlled the pace of the game overall.

Illinois State finished the season at 14-6. Loyola finishes at 14-4-1 before its guaranteed trip to the NCAA tournament. Illinois State last made the NCAA tournament in 2016 where it defeated Michigan in the first round before No. 14 ranked Duke eliminated the ’Birds.

“At the end of the day, really proud of this group,” Silvey said, “And what they accomplished this year. This senior class really did their part in terms of getting us back on ... a championship trajectory. To be in the championship game is a huge feat and a great accomplishment for this team and for that senior class.

ISU will lose a few key seniors after this season, including Smith and midfielder Kate Del Fava.

“At the end of the day, hopefully, this serves as motivation for the future of our team,” Silvey said. “And for the future of our program, to do what we need to to be back here, and to get us a game farther next year.”

The Redbirds improved a lot from last year’s 10-9-2 campaign. The team overcame many late deficits and competed in several close games. Illinois State’s defense will be remembered for its efforts and five-game shutout streak. The offense was explosive and had many breakout performances.

Individually, Smith and Del Fava stood out. In addition to being named MVC Player of the Year, Del Fava led the conference in scoring; Smith won several MVC Defensive Player of the Week awards and captured the program’s career shutout record.

“A lot of standout moments throughout the year,” Silvey said. “A lot of standout individual performances throughout the year that allowed us to get to this point within the season.”

The NCAA tournament begins Friday in locations to be determined.

MATT KALINOWSKI is a Sports Reporter for The Vidette. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter at @mattkalinowski8

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