NORMAL, Ill. – It was a dogfight just as expected, but the Illinois State soccer team raised the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champion trophy for the fourth-straight season after defeating Evansville 2-1 Sunday at Adelaide Street Field.
The top two seeded teams in the Valley matched up for the title in a rematch of a hard-fought game in October. Evansville boasted the top defense in the league statistically, accumulating 13 shutouts along with the Goalkeeper of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year on its roster.
The first half was played to a draw as each team fired six shots, but could get nothing by either keeper. ISU had four shots on goal compared to Evansville's one while Rachel Tejada led all players with three shots.
The Aces came out strong in the second half, owning possession of the ball and taking multiple shots. Evansville's best chance came minutes into the second when Montana Portenier had a one-on-one breakaway with ISU keeper Aryn Newsom. Newsom positioned herself beautifully in the box and Abby Van Deventer applied pressure from behind, forcing a rushed shot from Portenier that would roll wide left.
Minutes later, the Redbirds did not miss their chance. After an initial shot was mishandled by UE keeper Simone Busby, Tejada found herself in the right place at the right time at the right post and buried the game's first goal in the 53rd minute. It was her 18th of the season and fifth of the MVC Tournament.
ISU then seized momentum and dominated the possession for over 10 minutes of play, scoring an insurance goal in the 69th minute. Off a nice feed from Tejada, Hannah Leinert had open space seven yards out on the left side. She rifled a ball past Busby for a 2-0 Redbird lead.
However, Evansville would not quit. In the 75th minute the Aces earned a free kick and executed perfectly, with Colleen Dierkes scoring her first goal of the season at the back post. The final 15 minutes were intense as Evansville pushed for the equalizer, but could not crack the ISU defense.
ISU's defensive unit of Van Deventer, Alyse Williams, Gabbi McArtor and Sara Stankoskey held firm and Stankoskey in particular shut down every attack on the right side.
The Aces were only able to take two shots on goal compared to the Redbirds' seven and ISU held an 8-1 advantage in corner kicks. Newsom was required to make just one save in the net while Busby made five. Leinert, whose status was uncertain for the match, scored the game-winner for her 11th of the season.
For the Redbirds, it's the program's fourth-straight MVC Tournament title and they become just the second program to ever do so. Evansville accomplished the same feat from 1996-99. It's the first time ISU was able to win the tournament in front of its home crowd.
Crowds nearing 500 filled Adelaide Street Field both Friday and Sunday and they were treated to a show, culminating in ISU's sixth MVC Tournament title.
Tejada was named Tournament MVP after netting five goals and dishing out an assist in the two games. Joining her on the All-Tournament team was Leinert, Van Deventer and Brooke Ksiazek.
The Redbirds will now move on to their sixth NCAA Tournament. NCAA pairings will be announced Monday at 3:30 p.m. and can be seen live on NCAA.com. For complete ISU soccer coverage, follow the team on Twitter @ISU_Soccer.