Illinois State soccer’s Missouri Valley Conference championship defense is over.
The Redbirds (9-9-2) fell to Northern Iowa (13-4-1) 1-0 Sunday in the opening round of the MVC tournament in Waterloo, Iowa. With the loss, ISU’s season ends with the team losing four of its last five games.
“All credit to UNI,” ISU head coach Brad Silvey said. “They showed up and they had a nice game plan in place and we had a hard time countering it. But, like I said, [I’m] extremely proud of the team and what we were able to accomplish this year and it’s not too soon to start thinking about next year and how we’re going to prepare and plan to do better moving forward.”
Northern Iowa, who also beat ISU 1-0 in overtime back on Sept. 23, jumped ahead 1-0 early when junior Kelsey Yarrow scored on a fast break at 13:41, just after the Redbirds turned the ball over in their own end.
Illinois State fought back throughout the remainder of the match, creating multiple scoring opportunities. One of the closest came nearly 13.5 minutes into the second half when freshman Alix McArthur’s header off a pass from senior Kelli Zickert went wide of the net.
Ultimately, the Redbirds could not tie the match up as they finished the game with four shots on goal, two of which came from freshman Jessica Denney. Sophomore goalkeeper Haley Smith made two saves in the loss.
“We played super-narrow against a team that also plays very narrow and we turned the game into something that wasn’t really us,” Silvey said. “It wasn’t really a characteristic of who we are as a team and that was hard.”
After winning both the 2016 MVC regular season and tournament championship, Silvey now must figure out how to get the Redbirds back to the top of the conference. One of his biggest challenges will be filling the holes on his roster left from graduating seniors like Zickert, Emily Dickman and Abby Joyce.
The senior class, which also includes Vanessa Niestrom and Hannah Rodgers, were each a part of teams at ISU that won the MVC championship and made the NCAA tournament in 2014 and 2016.
“For our seniors, [I’m] just incredibly appreciative and grateful for them and everything that they’ve done for our program and the successes that they’ve had and as well as the tough moments that they’ve endured with us as well,” Silvey said. “It’s made us strong. It’s made us stable. They’ve helped to set a pretty high standard for this team and for the program and we’re going to miss them, but appreciate all that our upperclassmen, all of our seniors, what they’ve done for the program.”
With players like Smith, junior Angel Krell and sophomore Mikayla Unger expected to come back to Illinois State next season, Silvey hopes his team remember this loss moving forward.
“At the end of the game, we talked about bottling this memory up and remembering it,” Silvey said. “Being able to look back on it and to be able to use it as a springboard, I suppose, to motivate us and to fire us and to fuel us for future years to come.”
Northern Iowa will play top-seeded Drake in the MVC tournament semifinals at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Springfield, Missouri.