Seasoned Redhawks hope to bounce back
Redhawks soccer is back after last season ended in heartbreak. Southeast closed out 2018 on a penalty shootout loss to Eastern Illinois after battling through double-overtime. Both teams were square at one goal apiece heading into the shootout, but EIU edged out the Redhawks 3-2 on penalty kicks.
The team returns several starters, including all three of their All-Ohio Valley Conference players. Morgan McCourt and Bailey Redden begin their sophomore years after making the 2018 All-OVC Newcomer team while Esmie Gonzalez earned her second straight First-Team All-OVC honor in 2018.
McCourt scored four goals in her freshman season and had 21 shots in 17 games. Redden had a dominant season in goal, posting four shutouts in 15 games and accumulating 69 saves with an .831 save percentage.
Gonzalez was among the top players in every major offensive category in the OVC, finishing second in goals (10) and goals per game (.56), placing third in shots (63) and fifth in points (20) and points per game (1.11).
“I expect our team to play hard and work hard. Just go out as a team and play for each other,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez’s career at Southeast has been an illustrious one. The senior has some of the best career numbers in Redhawks women's soccer history as she heads into her final season. Among SEMO players, she ranks second in game-winning goals (10) and shots (186), third in shots on goal (88) and fourth in total goals (24).
Five other seniors return to the roster including Katie Lever, Cassidi Tomsu, Jennifer Brien, Siena Senatore and Jordan Nelson. Brien recorded a goal and 14 shots last season while Nelson picked up three assists along the way.
Coach Heather Nelson looks to her seniors to set the example of what a player should be to the underclassmen.
“This group has a ton of experience and diversity, and they've had to face a ton of adversity,” Nelson said. “Their experience and poise gives a lot for our younger players to look to and lean on.”
To complement the experience of the upperclassmen, eight freshmen join the squad for the 2019 season. Mariah Johnson, Hailey Block, Jada Harvey, Kennedy Jones, Megan Heisserer, Lena Frank, Natalie Jackson and Gabby Gscheidmeier will all be suiting up for Southeast this season. Block and Heisserer logged assists in the Redhawks’ preseason exhibition matches.
“One of our values is merit, and if you're contributing then you will get playing time,” Nelson said.
Nelson holds her team to a five-value system and each value is designed to complement the others. The other four values are selflessness, leadership, mental toughness and constant performance improvement. She describes these values as “the philosophy of the program” and expects the experienced players to pass this to the younger players.
Southeast defeated Memphis (1-0) on Aug. 10, Missouri State (3-0) on Aug. 14 and Southern Illinois (2-1) on Aug. 17 in its exhibition matches. The Redhawks will see SIU again in the regular season on Oct. 6 in a non-conference rematch.
Nelson says the team has been playing a different formation this preseason with three players on defense. The change came after an injury to a defensive player forced the Redhawks into a more aggressive formation. In a three-defensive back formation, the midfielders’ role changes to where they have to drop back more often to help on defense.
“We struggled scoring goals last year, so as a coaching staff we turned to a formation that will support goal scoring and creativeness,” Nelson said.
Southeast begins its season Sunday, Aug. 25, against the University of Southern Mississippi at Houck Stadium at 2 p.m.