In the Mid-South Conference, it is clear that every game matters to a great degree.
On Thursday and Saturday, both soccer programs will begin their respective journeys in the MSC Opening Round as the men’s and women’s soccer squads will play the No. 2 seeds in their respective brackets, Lindsey Wilson and Cumberlands (Ky.), in Bowling Green, Ky. The contests will begin at 6 p.m. both days.
For Shawnee State men’s soccer coach Ron Goodson and women’s soccer coach Natasha Ademakinwa, the opportunity to play two strong units that SSU is familiar with is a challenge that both programs are looking forward to — because both programs know that winning, as with any game in the Mid-South, is a possibility.
“I feel like we have worked on everything needed to work on to come out winners on Thursday,” Ademakinwa said of her girls’ opportunity against Cumberlands (Ky.). “I feel if the girls show up and play our Shawnee way, we can get the result that we deserve. I’m confident that our girls will put up a fight and can compete. On the day, it will just come down to which team makes their shots, tackles, passes, blocks and everything count.”
“Hopefully, the guys are up to the challenge,” Goodson said. “We did play Lindsey Wilson well at home, and hopefully, we can put together another great game against them. I’m sure the guys will be pumped up to play.”
On the women’s side of the spectrum, the Bears, who fell to the Patriots by a 5-2 mark last Friday, have greatly improved in conference action over its past three affairs.
In fact, Shawnee State, who won its bouts against Pikeville and Life (Ga.) over the last week of the regular season before falling to Cumberlands, outscored its Mid-South Conference foes by a 11-7 margin over its last three contests, and sat in a 1-1 tie with the Patriots until the 35th minute of play despite having two key contributors out due to sickness or injury in Nikki van Wees and Ramiah Wallace. Alli Blank was also limited in her game action due to injury, as well.
“It is definitely an advantage for us,” Ademakinwa said. “We know how they play, how they set up, and what their players can do. We have already seen Cumberland (Ky.)’s best. One bonus is that they didn’t get to see all of our players in action. Three of my players were missing last game, and two were out of position.”
To come out with a win, SSU will also need another strong effort from Eilidh Mchattie. Mchattie, who leads the Bears with eight goals and two assists (18 points) in 2019, put together a pair of goals against Life in the victory. Between the freshman from Scotland, Blank, and Destiny Chester, the Bears have three players who are more than capable of finishing, and with a backline that includes Cassidy Asbury, Paige Alford, and Ellie Aston, along with the defensive-minded threats of Olivia Ball and Jill Kelly, the Shawnee State lineup is a force to be reckoned with every time out.
“Our great strengths heading to the tournament are our team chemistry and unison,” Ademakinwa said. “Everyone works for each other and covers for each other. All players play a huge part in lifting each other’s spirits off and on the field. We are good when we have the ball and are dangerous on the attack. What we still need to work on is defensive duties across the whole field.”
As for the men, Shawnee State faces a program in Lindsey Wilson that they gave top run against during the pair’s meeting on Oct. 8, as the Bears, who battled the then-No. 9-ranked Blue Raiders to a scant 3-1 loss in Portsmouth. Now, the Bears have another shot to claim victory over the Blue Raiders, who are No. 8 as of the latest NAIA Top 25 Poll, in the Mid-South Conference’s Tournament’s Opening Round.
“We are fairly healthy, we need a good week of practice to prepare, and we will have to work on a game plan for Saturday,” Goodson said. “Last time we played Lindsey Wilson, we only had a day to prepare.”
While Shawnee State struggled to finish off runs in its 5-0 loss to Cumberlands (Ky.) last Friday, the Bears have new life when the postseason’s tournament begins on Saturday — and a litany of players who can finish at the net as evidenced by its seven hands who have scored at least two goals or more in 2019. Kevin de Lange (15 goals, nine assists), Thomas de Graauw (nine goals, five assists), and Joao Toledo (five goals, eight assists) lead a solid offense that is averaging 2.4 goals per game while Carlos Solmolinous Bravo, Jacob Perry, Bryce Romanello, Alek Blevins, Mitchell Patchett, Chris Jones, Bruno Rovares, and Nathan Ewing have all been critical in multiple facets throughout the year.
“Friday evening was disappointing,” Goodson said. “I did not think we played bad; Cumberlands just did a great job of capitalizing on their opportunities. The tournament is like a start over, a new season for everyone. We will have a few guys back that did not get to play the first time we played Lindsey Wilson, so that is a plus as well.”
And a new season provides opportunities for both teams to prove that they, too, can not only compete with, but belong among and alongside the Mid-South Conference’s elite programs.
“We’re looking forward to the tournament and the chance to play one of the best teams not only in our conference,” Goodson said, “but in the country.”
“I’m hoping we aren’t done playing, and will still compete,” Ademakinwa said. “We have also had games where scorelines haven’t reflected how we play. I’m hoping we can finish off the season with a bang. The girls can also give our seniors a big send off by doing so.”
With a win on Thursday evening, the women will face either No. 3-seeded Thomas More or No. 6-seeded Georgetown (Ky.) on Friday evening at 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT in the Mid-South Conference Semifinals. A win on Saturday evening will allow the men to play either No. 3 Cumberlands (Ky.) or No. 6 Cumberland (Tenn.) at 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT at the same MSC Semifinal stage.
All games throughout the Mid-South Conference Tournament will be televised through Stretch Internet at https://portal.stretchinternet.com/midsouthconf/.
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