This season, road games have been unkind to the Murray State soccer team as it managed only one win away from Cutchin Field prior to its showdown with Eastern Illinois Oct. 17.
The Racers finally overcame their road losing streak, however, as they earned a crucial 1-0 victory over the Panthers, firmly securing their spot in the OVC Tournament.
Freshman goalkeeper Shelby Haworth was thrown into a starting role and felt the pressure of the road in her first season as a Racer. Haworth said her lack of college experience was overcome with help from the upperclassmen.
“I have to say that I think my teammates definitely carry me through it,” Haworth said. “Going on the road is always tough – playing on somebody else’s field and in somebody else’s stadium. But I feel like we’ve done well with it lately. We’ve definitely responded well to adversity after losing to SEMO and SIUE, but I think the girls are always really positive and are always just looking to fight. And that’s always good going into road games.”
According to Haworth, the road success the Racers found against Eastern Illinois is better late than never.
“I think it’s always been a long time coming,” Haworth said. “Coach always kept saying that we just had to stick with it and turn the corner and we would start winning. I think we’ve done that, especially recently in OVC play. It’s a huge deal for us to get that win and be tied for first because we really want to play in the OVC Tournament here.”
The Panthers didn’t just hand the game over, however. Fighting for its spot in the OVC Tournament, Eastern Illinois kept up with the Racers down to the last minutes of the match.
Despite a 13-4 advantage in shots on goal in the opening period by the Racers, the game remained tied 0-0 heading into halftime. The Racers continued to apply pressure in the second half, but were denied the go-ahead goal until late in the game. The Panther’s luck ran out in the 84th minute when they were penalized for a handball, resulting in a direct kick. Senior forward Pavlina Nepokojova took advantage of the opportunity and scored the game-winning goal for the Racers.
“I thought it was one of the best performances we’ve had,” said Head Coach Jeremy Groves. “We came out in the first half ready to score, and we created a bunch of chances. We did what we wanted to do, you know, we just didn’t score. I thought we defended well. Shelby (Haworth) didn’t really have a lot to do. Then the in the second half we came out and they were a little bit better. We just kept plugging away and eventually we got our reward.”
At this point of the season, every game can significantly affect OVC standings. With teams fighting for their postseason futures, the Racers are facing desperate opponents game after game.
“Last weekend Eastern Illinois was still alive and still had a chance to make the tournament, so it’s like we’re catching every team on their biggest weekends,” Groves said. “This weekend we have Austin Peay and it’s a big weekend for them.”
The Racers continue their road stretch today as they travel to Austin Peay State to position themselves to win the OVC regular season title. The first place leader in the OVC has the privilege of hosting the OVC Tournament.
“I think a lot of things are going to be decided this weekend in terms of who’s going to win and who’s in position for second,” Groves said. “You know, right now SIUE is on six wins and one loss, and then underneath that there’s three of us at 5-2. So it’s going to be a big weekend. Jacksonville State plays SEMO and SIUE, so it’s kind of the top three or four teams playing each other.”
Despite the close standings at the top of the OVC, Haworth knows that the Racers are capable of coming out on top.
“We definitely want to win the OVC Tournament and I don’t have a doubt in my mind that we can and we will,” Haworth said. “I haven’t really started looking further into the future than that but I think those are our biggest goals right now. We want to play the tournament here and then win it all.”
Story by Peter Northcutt, Staff writer