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Southeast Missouri State soccer team clinches OVC crown with 3-0 win
Southeast claimed its fourth regular-season title against visiting Jacksonville State
The Southeast Missouri State women's soccer team is back on top of the Ohio Valley Conference following a three-year absence.
Southeast clinched the OVC regular-season championship by rolling past Jacksonville State 3-0 on Friday night in front of more than 200 fans at Houck Stadium.
"It feels awesome," senior defender Nikki Edwards said.
The Redhawks improved to 11-5-1 overall and 7-1 in OVC play as they locked up the title of the 10-team league before today's 1 p.m. regular-season finale against visiting Tennessee Tech.
"I'm just excited," senior defender Shona Goodwin said. "It felt great to do it at home."
Southeast will host the six-team OVC tournament beginning Thursday because it won the title. It also receives a bye into Friday's semifinals. The finals are next Sunday, with the winner earning an automatic NCAA tournament berth.
"This is only the first step," Edwards said. "We're definitely looking to get to the NCAA tournament. That's been our main goal."
Southeast won its fourth OVC regular-season title and first since 2007. The other championships were in 2001 and 2002.
The Redhawks also have claimed two OVC tournament crowns and two NCAA tournament berths in 2006 and 2007.
But the Redhawks dipped after 2007, failing to make the OVC tournament in 2008 and 2009 before rebounding to tie for second in the conference last season.
Those recent struggles make this year's success gratifying for players like Edwards and Goodwin, a pair of four-year starters who endured the rough times.
"It makes it that much more rewarding, considering where I started," Edwards said. "I'm proud of all the girls."
"It makes the first years worth it," Goodwin said.
Southeast coach Heather Nelson, who started the program in 1999, said before the season she thought the Redhawks were back all the way.
A squad featuring 17 returning players and several key additions has proven Nelson correct.
"They prepared themselves coming into this season," said Nelson, who has a 129-77-25 record at Southeast. "I think that shows the leadership we have with our six seniors.
"The chemistry has been wonderful, and this is the fittest team we've had."
Nelson said past championships have helped in attracting top players.
"When we're recruiting, I've been able to tell them that if you commit four years to us, you'll have a championship," Nelson said. "This has continued that."
Southeast entered play Friday needing only a tie in its final two games to gain at least a share of the title and assure itself of hosting the conference tournament.
The Redhawks left no doubt against Jacksonville State (2-12-4, 1-3-4) by scoring twice in the first 14 minutes during a dominant performance that featured a 28-4 advantage in shots.
"Everybody came out hyped up," senior forward Jessie Crabtree said.
Crabtree scored the first two goals to continue her strong rookie season at Southeast. She spent the past three years at the University of Missouri, where she was a key contributor.
"It feels like I've been here all four years," said Crabtree, a Marion, Ill., native who transferred from MU because she wanted to get closer to home. "I couldn't have asked for a better night than tonight."
Crabtree scored the earliest goal in program history when she headed in a nice cross from Goodwin just 26 seconds into the contest. The previous record was 29 seconds. Junior midfielder Ali Bauer also earned an assist on the play.
"That's an accomplishment I never thought would happen," Crabtree said. "I'll never forget it."
Crabtree made it 2-0 at the 13:15 mark. She took a pass from sophomore forward Jacey Boyko, spun past a defender and blasted a shot from about 30 yards out.
Crabtree has seven goals, tied for second on the Redhawks with senior midfielder Lauren Bozesky, who is in her second Southeast season after transferring from Saint Louis University.
The Redhawks rounded out the scoring in the first 10 minutes of the final half on Boyko's second goal of the season. She headed home a cross from Bauer. Crabtree also assisted on the play.
"We wanted to get it done tonight," Nelson said. "They came out firing."
Sophomore keeper Ashton Aubuchon made one save to record her seventh shutout of the season.
"We knew what we had to do tonight," Goodwin said. "We put on a good performance."
Southeast also welcomed back its leading scorer. Freshman forward Erin Shulman saw her first action since injuring an ankle Oct. 2.
Shulman, who has nine goals, had missed the past five games. She came off the bench Friday and played 49 minutes.
"It's great to have her back," Nelson said.
The Redhawks will celebrate senior day today when they conclude the regular season against Tennessee Tech.