Defending OVC soccer champs can play spoiler

Friday, October 24, 2003

After posting consecutive Ohio Valley Conference regular-season championships without losing a league game, Southeast Missouri State University's women's soccer team finds itself playing an unfamiliar spoiler's role.

Heading into their final two regular-season contests, the Otahkians have all but been eliminated from OVC title contention.

But the Otahkians can still have a major say in who wins the OVC crown, starting with tonight's 7 p.m. match against Eastern Illinois at Houck Field House. Southeast closes out the regular season next Friday at home against Tennessee Tech.

"Our focus is to try and play well so that we peak for the conference tournament," Southeast coach Heather Nelson said.

The winner of the OVC regular-season title hosts the league tournament. Southeast held that distinction the past two years but failed to capture the tournament title and advance to the NCAA Tournament, so Nelson figures maybe hitting the road for postseason play won't be such a bad thing.

"I would trade our two regular-season championships for an NCAA Tournament berth," she said.

Southeast, 8-4-4 overall, is a fourth-place 3-2-1 in the nine-team OVC. With 10 points -- in league play, teams receive three points for a win and one point for a tie -- the Otahkians are five points out of first place.

Samford leads the way at 5-1 and 15 points, followed by Eastern Illinois (4-0-2, 14 points) and Jacksonville State (3-0-3, 12 points).

While still mathematically in the race, the Otahkians would have to win their final two games and have the teams above them fall almost completely apart.

The spoiler role could be enjoyable for the Otahkians. Southeast and Eastern Illinois (8-4-4 overall) have built quite a rivalry in the brief history of OVC women's soccer.

After Tennessee Tech won the inaugural OVC regular-season title in 1998, Eastern Illinois prevailed in 1999 and 2000, followed by Southeast in 2001 and 2002. But in each of the past two years, the Panthers edged the Otahkians in the OVC Tournament finals to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Volleyball at home

Southeast's volleyball team, coming off Tuesday's big win over Murray State, will play another home match tonight when Tennessee-Martin visits Houck Field House at 7 p.m.

The Otahkians are 7-16 overall and 6-4 in OVC play after handing Murray State its first conference loss with a three-game sweep. The Skyhawks, who have won the past two OVC titles, are struggling at 4-19 and 2-6.

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