Soccer says goodbye to their seniors

Michael Harms , Courier Staff

MACOMB, Ill. — The Western Illinois women’s soccer team took on the Denver University Pioneers with playoff hopes on the line. The Purple and Gold fell by a score of 3-0 this past Sunday.

At 3-11-1 (0-5 in conference) the Leathernecks needed to win out the rest of the season and garner some help from other teams to get a spot in The Summit League tournament, whereas Denver was just two wins away from clinching the first seed at 10-5-2 and 5-1 in the Summit League.

This game was the last home game for the Leathernecks, as they celebrated four graduating seniors, a graduating junior and an honorary senior, who is currently the team manager.

Those four seniors are Lilly Butler, Madeline Edwards, Emma Keckeisen and Ashley Kuhlmann. Stacie Wolfgram is also graduating, but as a junior, and Nicole Beer has been with the team for four years, played for three and will graduate this year.

With no wins at home this year, the desperation was palpable for these seniors ready to win in their last game at John Mackenzie Alumni field.

Denver on the other hand, walked off the bus with an air of confidence.

Winning last year versus Western 5-0 and the No. 1 seed in conference they looked like bullies eager to take some lunch money.

From the early whistle Denver was on the attack. Moving the ball up the sidelines and beating the Western backline feeding it into the box on a multitude of occasions they were determined to find the back of the net. At first, the Western defense proved tough and denied the Pioneers from an open opportunity.

Unfortunately, the Purple and Gold could no longer hold Denver. Allowing the visiting team to get on the board first.

The Pioneers did not back down, and after 18 minutes, the leading goal scorer for the Pioneers, Samantha Feller, found her seventh goal of the season assisted by a high cross from teammate Natalie Beckman.

The Western defense failed to control the cross and Beckman found the ball and put it right past Ines Herrera Palmerio for the goal.

Up one goal, Western needed to equalize. Denver, up 1-0, thought that they owned the field and decided to play like it. Taking shots from 45 yards out to try to catch Herrera-Palmerio off guard and constant pressure by their forwards made it impossible for the Leathernecks to get a run on them.

Coming out of the half, Western had a couple chances and a great cross that was headed toward the goal by Madeline Edwards, but it was denied by goalkeeper Brittney Wilson. Then, Denver took advantage of the constant pressure and won the ball at midfield. With the ball about 30 yards out, Meg Hulvorson fired a shot to the top right corner that should be a candidate for goal of the year.

An amazing shot out of the box put serious pressure on the Leathernecks, needing two goals to level up the score and it seemed impossible. Nevertheless, director of soccer, Eric Johnson, had good things to say about his players.

“They are a motivated group and were disappointed but never quit,” Johnson said.

He also talked about how talented these two goal scorers are for Denver.

“Denver has two players that can score a goal without help and they both scored in the first half,” Johnson said. “That gave them a cushion and they sat back and protected it.”

They protected it well and even added one later goal from Abbey Miller for a final score of 3-0. This loss permanently eliminates Western from the playoffs, as they have to finish their season out with two road games where both the team and coach’s playoff are only focused on winning.

With these four graduating seniors about to depart from Western, one of the leaders on defense, Lilly Butler, described her time here with one word: Rewarding.

“My favorite memories are probably meeting my best friends through soccer and experiencing practices, games and road trips with them,” Butler said.

With a disappointing season coming to an end, Western is not disappointed with our seniors. They played with passion and diligence that will not be forgotten, and it’s tough to say goodbye to such amazing talent.

Their path forward will bring nothing but success if they embrace it as they embraced their time here in Macomb. Hopefully they can end their season on a high note. Up next, Western will hit the road to face Indiana University Purdue University- Fort Wayne. Kickoff in Fort Wayne is set for this Thursday at 6 p.m.

Last year, Western beat the Mastadons by a score of 1-0. In that game, junior Emily Bollman found the back of the net for the Leathernecks.

Fort Wayne is currently ranked at the bottom of the Summit League standings. Western is in eighth place, taking the spot right above IPFW.

Neither of these teams will be making the Summit League tournament this year. The conference tournament will be held Nov. 1-3.