SE falls in OVC tourney final

Monday, November 12, 2001

In a history-making season of firsts, perhaps the most desired one eluded the Southeast Missouri State University women's soccer team Sunday at Houck Stadium.

Top-seed Southeast (16-2) dropped a 1-0 decision to second-seed Eastern Illinois University for the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship and the right to be the first to represent the conference in the Division I NCAA tournament.

The loss ended a remarkable season for Southeast's 3-year old soccer program. The Otahkians collected their first OVC regular-season title this year, winning an OVC-record 16 games. The goal which ended Southeast's season was the only one allowed in seven conference games.

Southeast coach Heather Nelson, voted OVC Coach of the Year, said, "We're definitely a team to be looking out for in the future and we did a lot of very good things this season. We broke numerous records and I think we established ourselves as one of the dominant programs in the Midwest and we'll continue to build on that."

Because the NCAA expanded the field to 64 teams, this was the first year the OVC champion was eligible for an automatic berth in the tournament.

Eastern Illinois (14-5), always at or near the top of the OVC standings, had lost to Southeast 1-0 earlier this year at home. On Sunday, the Lady Panthers got what proved to be its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with only about six minutes gone in the first half.

EIU sophomore midfielder Beth Liesen, among the top 10 in scoring in the nation with 18 goals, scored on an unassisted breakaway from about 10 yards out.

Said Nelson, "One of my defenders misread the bounce and the other one wasn't in the best coverage situation she could have been, and we just got outrun."

On her game-winning goal, Liesen said, "It's unbelievable, the first time ever we get to go to the NCAA's. I'm only a sophomore and it is wonderful."

Although beaten on a tough save situation, senior goalie Beth Guccione, the OVC Player of the Year, concluded a stellar career at Southeast with three saves. She finished the season tied for third on the NCAA single-season shutout list with 13.

Southeast's other senior, Cape Central product Nicole Thiele closed out her career as the school's goal-scoring leader with 29.

The Otahkians had four or five decent opportunities to tie the match, but were unable to convert. They had a player advantage for the last seven minutes of the contest after a red-card ejection of an EIU defender.

Nelson said, "Actually in the first half we had two or three balls go across the entire front of the goal. We had one that was spinning towards it and we had a rebound that Erika Todd was very composed on, but a defender just happened to get her foot on it."

The bigger, more physical Eastern Illinois squad -- EIU committed 20 fouls to 13 for Southeast -- loaded the penalty area with defenders after taking the early lead.

"Actually that changed it (strategy) right from the beginning, because we were going to attack, but once we scored the first goal we played it a little more defensively than we normally do," said EIU coach Steve Ballard.

Southeast' Diana Poovey, Katie Huelsing and Julie Wunderlich were voted to the all-tournament team, while EIU's Devon Bissell was named MVP.

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