The women’s soccer team was able to hold off No. 17 University of Kentucky for 110 minutes on Saturday, Nov. 15, but lost in penalty kicks 4-2.
The loss ended the team’s first run in the NCAA Tournament in the first round, but Head Coach Derek Burton said he was proud of his team’s effort and ability to take the game to the brink.
“It went the way that we thought it would go, and honestly the way we wanted it to go in general,” Burton said. “We had a game plan, which was quite different from the way that we pretty much played all year. We had a little time to prepare the team and train for it. The players did a really good job of buying in, committing to it, investing their energy and supporting one another. For the most part, it worked, and it was successful. We wanted to do everything we could to keep Kentucky off the scoreboard for as long as we possibly could, so we wouldn’t have to chase the game or chase them physically. We couldn’t be more proud of the commitment level of players and the effort they put in on the night.”
The Cougars were outshot by the Wildcats 31-4, and the home team had 17 corner kicks. Despite this, the SIUE defense and junior goalkeeper Jennifer Pelley were able to keep a shutout through two overtime periods.
Burton said Pelley’s performance was exactly what he expected from his goalie.
“[Pelley] was on top of her game,” Burton said. “She was really, really strong. She controlled the 6-yard box and controlled her area. She was brave, composed, sure handed, vocal, all the things you want from a goalkeeper in a game like that where you’re under a lot of pressure and dealing with a lot of corner kicks. They had a really dangerous long throw as well, and she dealt with it and organized the players in front of her.”
The defense was faced with the daunting task of stopping Kentucky’s senior defender Arin Gilliland. While being named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Gilliland led the Wildcats in points, with seven goals and eight assists.
Burton said his team did an excellent job stopping the 2013 All-American.
“To be honest, our back line was really solid all across the board,” Burton said. “We had five different people play along the back in the game, and they stood tall. It was tall order to play the way that we asked them to play and really step up to some SEC-caliber players, which they did. I can’t say enough about [senior defender] Sam Jones. She’s been outstanding all year. She held a two-time All-American in check for a 110 minutes. Not many people in the country have done that, much less an OVC school.”
In the shootout, senior forward Michelle Auer and junior midfielder Cassidy Sherman did not score for SIUE, but freshman defender Rachael Brots and sophomore defender Cory Levels made their shots. All four Kentucky players converted their penalty kicks.
Burton said there was not much to talk about before the shootout started, as the team had been preparing for a situation like this for weeks.
“It’s just about who can convert, so there’s not a whole lot to talk about,” Burton said. “We’ve done all of our preparation for a potential penalty kick shoot-out for the last couple of weeks. You do that in practice. You try to replicate the scenario in practice. You have the shooters you’re comfortable with and the shooters who are comfortable doing it because not everyone is. Because it’s a pressure situation, not everyone wants that.”
With three seniors graduating, the majority of the team will be back next season. Burton said the postseason run will be a point of emphasis in 2015.
“We’re going to make sure that it’s a huge factor going into next season,” Burton said. “We got a taste of it, and the feelings and emotions that we had all postseason were incredible and new for all of us. I want those back, and I’m sure our players do too. We’re going to do everything in our power to make that happen.”
The second round of the NCAA Tournament starts at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21.