MURRAY — School is back in session for Murray State and the student-athletes on the women’s soccer team have already had a big test in the form of Big East foe, Xavier.
In the first half, the Racers had all of the answers when they shot out to a 3-1 lead going to halftime, but ultimately the test proved too difficult as the Racers lost in double overtime 4-3. The performance of the day for Xavier goes to Samantha Dewey who tallied 10 shots, eight on goal, and four in the back of the net including the game-winner with just over a minute left in the second overtime period.
“She’s a good player. That’s the one thing we identified in the scout,” Murray State head coach Matt Lodge said. “If you let 21 (Dewey) get on the ball she’s going to hurt you and she scored four goals, so that’s very disappointing. The first half, Grace Bodeker did a great job on her. In the second half, they moved her higher up the field and took us out of our rhythm.”
Defensively, the Racers played well, but with a pair of freshmen starting at center back due to injuries to Karsyn Hasch and Joselle Morche, eventually cracks started to form. Cracks that Lodge believed wouldn’t have been there with his starters.
“It is what it is, you’re going to have injuries. That’s part of the game,” Lodge said. “We started two freshman center backs, a freshman goalkeeper, a freshman defensive midfielder, and that’s not excuses. I think that’s a good thing, that we can rely on those players to come in. For the goals, I think Josie and Karsyn handle all four, but they weren’t there. Whoever was in place didn’t handle them so we’ve got to get back to the drawing board. Those two (Josie and Karsyn) aren’t going to be here every year for the next five years, so we’ve got to be able to deal with it without them.”
Early on, the vaunted Racers’ attack was there, in all its glory. Last season’s Freshman of the Year, Abby Jones, scored on a header from a cross by Rebecca Kubin in the 18th minute to give the Racers a 1-0 lead. Xavier responded quickly when Dewey scored her first of four in the 21st minute to make it 1-1. Just a couple of minutes later, Miyah Watford put the Racers back on top 2-1 with a goal in the 24th minute. Then, just before the half, Kubin got one off an assist from Elizabeth Tilton to give the Racers the 3-1 halftime lead.
The second half was a different story as the Racers couldn’t finish any of their opportunities and struggled to keep the ball for long periods. Dewey scored quickly to open up the second half and then scored again in the 64th minute. From that point on it was a stalemate with neither team able to put anything away, so the game headed to not one, but two overtime periods.
That’s not to say that the racers didn’t have chances to put the game away. They just didn’t quite get the right touches when they needed it.
“Some fine-tuning going forward, I think Xavier did a good job dropping off to stop Kube’s (Kubin) speed towards the end there, but again we still had chances to win the game,” Lodge said. “Miyah put one over the bar from six yards in overtime. That game could’ve gone either way.”
With a game against an opponent as tough as Xavier, Lodge found several bright spots to be happy about as they continue on this season.
“It’s a very good opponent that we scored three goals against in one half,” Lodge said. “I think at any point in a game we can score goals. It’s just cleaning up and concentrating for the whole game, not just for 45 minutes. Sanford is a very good team that’s getting national rankings right now, so that’s not going to be an easy game. It’s going to be tougher than this game. More athletics than this game. Some people have to step up and be accounted for.”
The three goals came from familiar faces and proved exactly why the offense was the talk of the offseason heading into the new year.
“One of the best things for us is that all three of our returning forwards scored a goal,” Lodge said. “We can fix the things on the defensive end, but we have the firepower going forward so we’ll be just fine.”
Things fell apart after the tremendous first half for the Racers, but it was exactly what Lodge warned the girls would happen if they didn’t continue to play at a high level all 90 minutes.
“I thought the first half we were fantastic, you go into halftime with a 3-1 lead against a very good team, things are promising,” Lodge said. “But, as I said at halftime, they’re not going to go away. They’re going to come back. They are going to smash the ball. The things we dealt with, in the first half, we let slip in the second half and that’s how they scored four goals, so we’ve got to clean that stuff up.”
Aside from the center back spots, the backline played nearly flawless as Saraya Young and Izzy Heckman held down the sideline drives and covered their area plus some of the middle.
“I thought Saraya Young had a great game,” Lodge said. “She covered every blade of grass at the back, and Izzy Heckman had a great game at the back, but she (Dewey) is a very good player and we’ve just got to deal with her a lot better for 90 minutes, not just 45.”
In goal, a question was answered, sort of, for the Racers. Lodge said the position will remain in flux this year and be on a week-to-week basis, but freshman Jenna Villacres got the start and had 11 saves on 15 shots on goal.
“Jenna is a really calming voice in goal back there,” Lodge said. “She’s loud, she’s confident, and the goals she gave up…I think she could’ve done better on the free-kick. She saw it late, but everything else I think was just good finishes.”
The injured pair of Hasch and Morche could’ve played if needed yesterday but Lodge said there was no reason to rush them out for a non-conference game and risk further injury.
“They are in practice. We are just building them up,” Lodge said. “Today wasn’t a game with the conditions and the style of play, which was just smash the ball forward, I think we could risk them both.”
The loss may sting, but the experience and the level of play that the Racers faced yesterday helped them gain valuable experience, both against a tough opponent and for the freshmen that saw the field.
“I’m proud of the grit and the determination,” Lodge said. “I think four freshmen played 90 minutes today and one was pretty close to 90 minutes, so that’s promising for us.”