Booted out

Saturday, November 11, 2006
Southeast Missouri State defender Stephanie Kulavic, right, collided with Illinois forward Ella Masar while going for the ball during the NCAA tournament first-round game in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS -- The Southeast Missouri State womens soccer team's postseason came to a rainy and dreary end.

Playing in the program's first NCAA tournament game, the Redhawks were ousted by third-seeded Illinois 2-0 Friday night at Robert R. Hermann Stadium on the campus of St. Louis University.

Illinois advanced to play Saint Louis University on Sunday at 1 p.m.

But Southeast's players can go into the offseason with their heads held high. The Redhawks (10-8-2) showed they belonged among the elite programs in the nation.

"I'm very proud of my team," Southeast coach Heather Nelson said.

The Redhawks actually had the better of the play to start the game. They caught the Illini flat-footed and were playing the game at their pace.

"SEMO came out and played like they belonged," Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said.

The weather, however, wouldn't cooperate. Twenty-four minutes into a rainy and windy opening half, lightning was sighted. The officials pulled the teams off the field for their safety. Over the 90 minutes, the rain picked up and lightning illuminated the sky.

The teams were forced to sit in the locker room and wait until it was safe to play. When they resumed, the Redhawks narrowly missed a great chance off a corner kick. Junior midfielder Blair Schuppan sent a beautiful ball into the box. The ball went off the cross bar before being cleared out.

Not a minute later, the Illini (15-7) converted on their first real chance.

With 8:20 remaining in the first half, Paula Faherty netted the first goal of the game on a nice feed from Emily Zurrer to beat Southeast goalkeeper Lindsay Pickering.

"We came out strong [before the delay]," Southeast senior defender Jessi Wuellner said. "We had the momentum and we had trouble getting it back."

Trailing 1-0 at the half, Southeast opened the second half sluggish. The Illini used their speed to bring numbers on the attack and overwhelm the Redhawks defense, scoring 5 minutes into the half.

Illinois' junior forward Ella Masar won the right side end line and drove into the box. She slipped the ball in front of Pickering to freshman midfielder Jackie Santacaterina at the 6-yard box. Santacaterina hit a one-timer into the right corner of the net.

"They scored on two great goals," Nelson said.

The Redhawks struggled to generate chances in the second half. Sophomore Casey Kraft, normally a midfielder/defender, was moved up top but was double- and triple-covered throughout the second half, limiting her open opportunities. Despite being the center of the Illini's attention, Kraft, the OVC tournament MVP, was able to help create a few chances for the Redhawks.

"I think [Kraft and Courtney Alexander] presented us with problems," Rayfield said. "They were relentless."

Kraft and Alexander scared the Illini so much that the coaches instructed the team to keep an eye on them when Illinois had possession. The pair were able to create some mismatches and breakaway chances early in the game.

"Anytime we sent numbers forward, which we like to do, they were able to make us pay," Rayfield said.

They weren't however, able to crack Illinois junior goalkeeper Lindsay Carstens, who picked up the shutout.

Even though their hopes of advancing to Sunday's second round were snuffed out, the Redhawks' future remains bright. The team loses two seniors and returns nine starters. Nelsons' crew will be back with the intention of taking the program to new heights.

As far as stepping stones go, this was a big one.

"We know we can make it here," Kraft said. "We're only losing two seniors, and we'll use this as motivation."

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