By Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
As the year draws to a close, the soccer season is entering its final phase. After months of preparation and a season’s worth of games, the real test will finally start, with both men and women’s teams set to play in the River States Conference Tournament’s opening rounds on Nov. 5.
This year, both teams finished the regular season with a winning record; the men at 9-7-1 and the women at 10-5-2. It’s a marked improvement for both teams: last year the men hit double-digit losses and only won six games.
The women have improved their efficiency at home. After losing five times on their own field last year, they’ve made it a fortress this season. The team only lost a single game on their own turf, a 1-0 loss to Georgetown on Sept. 23
That efficiency at home might prove to be an important factor. After winning their final conference game against Rio Grande, the women are the three-seed in the RSC, meaning they will host the quarterfinal match against West Virginia Tech.
It’s a testament to the growth the team has seen since the appointment of Brooke Lincoln as head coach. After a transition year in 2013, they have finished with at least 10 wins in every following season. Seniors Rachel Bertrand and Toria Howard will have a final chance to take home a championship after playing in every single game for the Eagles this year.
The defense has been one of the strongest in the conference, only averaging one goal allowed per game. On offense, Lincoln will be looking to players like sophomore Emily Hubbuch (2nd-leading scorer in the RSC) and freshman Georgia Clark (six goals in her last five games) to keep the attack going. “She’s really come on for us here lately,” Lincoln said after Clark’s two-goal performance against Rio Grande.
On the men’s side, a conference run would be a great way to cap off what has been a great season. After last year’s semifinal appearance, the bar for this year will definitely be set a little higher. While their conference record this year isn’t the strongest (3-5), two of those losses came against teams ranked in the top-15 in the nation: Rio Grande and West Virginia Tech. In their 1-0 loss against 13th-ranked WV Tech, the Eagles kept things close for most of the game and even threatened to win off a couple close chances.
It’s a testament to the growth the team has seen since the appointment of Brooke Lincoln as head coach. After a transition year in 2013, they have finished with at least 10 wins in every following season.
With that in mind, head coach Ben Andrews should have a positive outlook as the team goes into their quarterfinal game at home against Brescia. Asbury beat the Bearcats 4-1 when they played on Oct. 13. Should the Eagles hope to repeat the result, some pressure will fall on freshman Noah Welch, the team’s leading goal scorer. After starting off the year hot, the forward sits at 11 goals, a number he’ll hope to see rise as the Eagles move through the postseason.
As a team, the Eagles have been strong on both sides of the ball, ranking fourth in the conference in terms of goals scored and third in goals allowed, only behind Rio and WV Tech.
For each team, the road has always been leading to the conference tournament. In a series of one-off games, anything can happen and one goal can separate you from the next round and early preparations for next year.