By: Caleb Luketic//Contributing Writer
The Middle Tennessee Women’s Soccer team took on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Friday night as a part of their Pink Weekend in support of spreading awareness for breast cancer. The Blue Raiders entered Friday night in first place in Conference USA, while the Hilltoppers entered in fourth place.
Middle Tennessee 2-0 Western Kentucky
The first 15 minutes were jam-packed with scoring opportunities for both squads, but neither team capitalized. The Blue Raiders (8-3-1, 4-0-0) were extremely aggressive on the defensive side of the ball, but were smart contesting defensively.
“I think we were very disciplined tonight [on defense],” head coach Aston Rhoden said when asked his defense’s performance. “We talked about this before the game, not taking unnecessary risks just given the nature of the field, and I think we did that successfully.”
The Blue Raiders offense finally broke through in the 27th minute on a corner kick that freshman Morgan Mauck was able to bury in the back of the net for her first career goal.
The first 20 minutes of the second half were fairly quiet, as teams dealt with harsher conditions. Both teams tried to get things going, but they couldn’t seem to find any offensive rhythm.
The Blue Raiders attackers got the offense going once again in the 65th minute with a couple of great scoring opportunities, but the best came on a corner kick that freshman Morgan Mauck received in the 69th minute.
Mauck headed the kick toward the top of the goal, but sophomore goalkeeper Allison Leone made the save with her outstretched arms to keep the Hilltoppers (6-4-3, 2-2-1) deficit at just one.
The Blue Raiders kept pressing and attacking, and it finally paid off as freshman Jessica Steen made a fantastic cross through the box to set up senior Tori Hawkins for her second score on the year.
“Yes we are number one in the league, but we play in a very tough league. We have a really strong set of games ahead of us, starting with Marshall on Sunday,” Coach Rhoden responded when asked about being in first place in Conference USA. “I know this sounds cliche, but we take it one game at a time. When we get into that game we put all of our energy into that 90 minutes, and when it is finished, we regroup and do the same thing for the next one.”
Middle Tennessee 2-3 Marshall
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (8-4-1, 4-1-0) hosted the Marshall ThunderingHerd (10-2-3, 3-1-2) on Sunday afternoon at Dean A. Hayes Track and Soccer Stadium.
Marshall’s game plan from the get-go involved air through balls over the Blue Raider defense. The first two minutes were filled with offensive action from both teams, but Marshall’s Jordan Pankhurst struck first in the 2nd minute of the game to give the Thundering Herd a 1-0 lead.
“When you give up a goal in the first two minutes, it certainly changes the whole dynamic of the game plan you had,” Head Coach Aston Rhoden said. “We were slow out of the box, but I think in the second half we certainly picked things up.”
Minutes later, Tori Hawkins capitalized on a missed Marshall shot, getting out on the break and fired the ball into the back of the net to knot things up at one.
Marshall quickly took the unforced errors committed by the Blue Raiders and turned them into scoring opportunities. Freshman Ashley Seltzer scored an unassisted goal off of a turnover in the 31st minute that gave Marshall the lead once again at 2-1.
“We had a lot of uncharacteristic unforced errors, and we build our game around keeping the ball.” Coach Rhoden responded after being asked how Marshall was able to shut down the Blue Raider offense. “When you have unforced errors and turn the ball over, it certainly makes it more difficult to play. ”
Middle Tennessee looked lethargic and fatigued in the first half, as they were dominated on attempted shots. Marshall ended the first half with 17 shots, while the Blue Raiders only had four, only one of which was on goal.
The Blue Raiders tried to stop Marshall’s offensive attack in the second half, coming out with more energy, but the Thundering Herd struck quickly once again, as senior Jenna Dubs assisted fellow senior Erin Simmons for the goal that gave Marshall a commanding 3-1 lead.
The Blue Raiders received a much needed boost of energy from the bench toward the end of the second half, as freshman Morgan Mauck scored within a minute of entering the game to lessen the deficit to 1. Mauck came into the conference weekend with no goals in her young career, but ended Sunday with a pair, and looks to be a bright spot in the Blue Raider future.
The Blue Raiders attempted a comeback, but Marshall played keep away the final seven minutes of action, preventing a potential comeback by the Blue Raiders.
“We have to forget about this one,” Coach Rhoden said. “We’ll certainly have to take a look at some of the areas we weren’t very good at this afternoon, regroup, and make sure we’re ready for what’s going to be a strong North Texas team.”
Middle Tennessee prepares this week before heading to Texas for a two-game C-USA road trip. The Blue Raiders take on North Texas on Friday at 6 p.m.
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