Murray State offense celebrates goal

Emma Heise (25) celebrates a goal scored earlier this year against Ole Miss with her teammates Rebecca Kubin (20), Miyah Watford (5), and Symone Cooper (19).

MURRAY — A familiar foe stands in the way of the Murray State Racers’ women’s soccer team and a spot in the OVC Championship game Sunday. 

They will face off against Belmont on Friday at 3 p.m. at Southeast Missouri on the artificial turf field where things can get weird. 

Heading into the game, the Racers have won the last five meetings, including a 3-0 win earlier this year at Nashville. In that game, Miyah Watford scored twice and Abby Jones added a third. The Racers doubled the Bruins in total shots, took six corners to just one, and held the advantage in possession. 

The difference this time will be the playing surface in Cape Girardeau. Artificial turf can change the bounce of the ball and generally give teams issues if they aren’t prepared for different bounces and the increased speed of the game. However, head coach Matt Lodge said he is extremely confident in what his team can do and that the surface won’t change anything.

“We’re pretty quick and efficient going forward, so it doesn’t change anything,” Lodge said. “If we play on grass, turf, concrete, I still think we’d play the same way.”

The Murray State offense is putting together one of the best seasons in team history, having scored a program-record 27 goals against OVC opponents in 2019. Additionally, their 2.39 goals per game through all competitions is tied for 15th in the nation, while their 43 total goals is good for 18th in the country.

They are led by senior Miyah Watford, who has recorded 14 goals and counting on the year and currently leads the OVC. She’s also tied for 12th in the nation in scoring. Her dazzling offensive displays have produced 33 total points (14 goals, and five assists) and she now holds the Murray State single-season records in both goals and points.

Meanwhile, sophomore Abby Jones has chipped in 22 points of her own, collecting six goals and an OVC-leading 10 assists that is tied for 15th in the country. She has already tied the MSU single-season assists record that she broke and set her freshman season a year ago.

They have had a little experience playing on turf this year and the Racers had some success. With an offense as explosive as their’s it’s hard not to have success. 

“I don’t think it’s anything we haven’t seen before,” Lodge said. “There’s several teams in our conference that play on turf. Missouri State played on turf. I think this season we are 2-1 on turf so it is what it is. Luckily we have a football team that is allowing us to play on there and get some sessions on there. It doesn’t matter what surface we play on. I believe in our players and what we are trying to do and how we are trying to do it so I don’t think it should pose much of a problem.”

When it comes to Belmont, the major threats offensively are upperclassmen Julie Garst (7 goals) and Niki Clements (5 goals). What the Bruins do really well is pack in defensively and counter when a team presses forward. Lodge anticipates a lot of opportunities for his team if they follow the script and stick to the plan.

“They are very organized defensively, so we’ve got to be patient in our build up, but we’ve got to move the ball quickly,” Lodge said. “If we allow them to set up and rotate it’s going to be a tough game, but if we move it quick and get after them and get some services in the box then we’ll have some fun. Then, we’ve just got to stop their counter attacks that they do so well. That’s the game plan. Control the tempo, be efficient in front of goal, and destroy their counter before it begins.”

If the Racers can get the win they will advance to their third straight OVC Championship game and will face the winner of the game between Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at 6:30 p.m.

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