College Sports

Three-time national champion up next for SIUE women’s soccer team

Temperatures in the low-40s, winds exceeding 25-mph and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are awaiting the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville women’s soccer team at 6 p.m. Friday at Alumni Stadium in South Bend, Ind.

It all sounds lovely to the Cougars.

SIUE (10-7-4) is in the NCAA Division I Tournament for the second time in three years. It may be an underdog against the Irish (13-3-4), who will be on their home field and are in the tournament for the 24th consecutive year. But that hardly matters to the Cougars, who survived the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament with three one-goal wins.

“This is a big step, especially for our younger players who haven’t been here,” ninth-year Cougars coach Derek Burton said. “For our sophomores and freshmen, it’s all new. For our juniors and seniors, they’ve done this before. We’re asking for their help to guide the younger players ... to really get everyone’s mind on the right page so our mentality is the way it needs to be for us to step on the field and compete Friday.”

This is a big step, especially for our younger players who haven’t been here. For our sophomores and freshmen, it’s all new. For our juniors and seniors, they’ve done this before. We’re asking for their help to guide the younger players ... to really get everyone’s mind on the right page so our mentality is the way it needs to be for us to step on the field and compete Friday.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville women’s soccer coach Derek Burton

SIUE lost to Kentucky on penalty kicks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2014, its only other appearance since it began competing at the Division I level.

The Cougars defeated Austin Peay 5-4 in penalty kicks after two scoreless overtime periods in the first round of the OVC Tournament, then outlasted top-seeded Murray State 2-1 in overtime Friday and Eastern Kentucky 1-0 in the championship game Sunday.

“You really expect nothing less,” Burton said of the close matches. “That’s the way the regular season goes, too. We made slight adjustments in each games, especially in the semis and finals, based on how we played against them in the regular season. Not that we changed everything, but we pointed out some things that could help us in those games.”

Scouting the Irish

Notre Dame won the regular-season title in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Irish then lost to North Carolina 2-1 in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.

Defense has been a hallmark for the Irish. They have permitted just nine goals this season and scored 26.

Freshman forward Jennifer Westendorf leads the attack with six goals. Burton said Westendorf is equally as effective with both feet and is a target player on set pieces. Senior forward Kaleigh Olmsted has four goals and a team-high five assists and junior forward Kaitlin Klawunder has three goals. Five other players have two goals apiece.

“They’re obviously very good, highly regarded,” Burton said. “They’re a traditionally strong program and a past national champion (1995, 2004, 2010). The challenge in a big one, but it’s definitely one we’re up for. They don’t play in any way that’s super-unique. They actually play, tactically and formationally, the same way we do, which is nice. They remind us of us.”

Scouting the Cougars

SIUE has yielded 25 goals, but the Cougars have 33 goals and lots of balance. Seven players have at least two goals, led by junior forward Caroline Hoefert (five goals, six assists), an Alton Marquette graduate, sophomore forward/defender Avery Anderson (five goals, three assists) and freshman midfielder/forward Peyton Roehnelt (five goals).

Junior midfielder/forward Emily Grahl has three goals and six assists.

Really, for us, it’s about the way we play and creating those (scoring) opportunities. It’s not creating opportunities for one or two people. It’s creating opportunities for positions and different areas on the field. That could be anybody, because we use our depth. We play a fair amount of players because we have good players up and down our lineup.

SIUE women’s soccer coach Derek Burton on the Cougars’ offense

“We don’t really have a player that we rely on, necessarily, to put the ball in the back of the net,” Burton said. “I think we have a bunch of capable people.

“Really, for us, it’s about the way we play and creating those (scoring) opportunities. It’s not creating opportunities for one or two people. It’s creating opportunities for positions and different areas on the field. That could be anybody, because we use our depth. We play a fair amount of players because we have good players up and down our lineup.”

Burton said the Cougars will need plenty of options against Notre Dame.

“Defensively, they are very organized,” Burton said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge to try to break that down and create some chances, for sure.”

Defensively, senior Kassidy Rawdon, a Collinsville High graduate, is one of the best players in the OVC.

“Kass is a real competitor,” Burton said. “She’s emerged the last couple of seasons as a rock-solid defender. For my money, she’s the best one-v.-one defender in our conference. She’s just tenacious. Her defensive ability technically, in terms of her footwork and the way she plays defense, is really tough to beat. She’s strong and a real tough customer for anybody.”

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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