Women’s soccer looks ahead towards Jackrabbits and Fighting Hawks in weekend conference double-header

Alex Staab, Courier Staff

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A hot run in the form of a four-game winning streak for the Western Illinois Women’s Soccer team has been cooled off lately, as the Leathernecks have dropped their last two, both shutouts. This weekend is an opportunity to return to their winning ways as Western Illinois will travel to the Dakotas, taking on league-leading South Dakota State on Friday and fifth place North Dakota State on Sunday.

The road is a place that hasn’t been all that kind to the Leathernecks. As of last Thursday’s road loss to Denver, it makes Western Illinois 0-4-1 in true road matches. On top of that, the Leathernecks have only scored once away from Macomb, with that one goal coming from Carolina Gomes back on Sept. 1 in a 3-1 loss to Kansas City.

A tall task kicks off the weekend road trip in the form of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, who currently stand alone as the leaders in the Summit League women’s soccer standings with a perfect 3-0 in-league record. If the Leathernecks were to get the win and a North Dakota loss to Oral Roberts, Western Illinois would be tied with the Fighting Hawks and half a game behind the Jackrabbits. Needless to say, Friday’s game could wind up being a critical one in terms of how the standings play out.

It could be easier said than done. The Jackrabbits have out-scored their opponents 18-0 en route to a nine-match win streak. They are undefeated at home, with their three losses coming to Creighton (0-1), Kansas State (0-2), and Drake (0-1), all of which were true road matches in late August through early September.

Goals will be coming at a premium, and that’s a testament to the Jackrabbits’ goalkeeper, Maggie Smither, who currently paces all Summit League keepers with just four goals allowed in all of 2019.

Meanwhile, from goals against goals for, Leah Manuleleua is two goals from being the league’s leading goal-scorer.

It becomes an interesting dynamic to see how the efforts of players like Manuleleua are counteracted by the goalkeeping efforts of Western Illinois’ Ines Palmiero Herrera, who currently has the second-most saves in all of the Summit League with 66.

In essence, Friday’s match in Brookings, S.D. may come down to who has the better keeper. With Smither’s .939 save percentage and 0.31 goals against average, Western Illinois will need the efforts of players like Amy Andrews’ team-high five goals or Zoe Clarke and Jenna Lundgren, both of whom have two goals apiece.

Then, it’s the North Dakota State Bison on tap for Sunday. The Bison, although currently below the Leathernecks on the standings, have some very notable names that will certainly factor into Sunday’s meeting.

Elyse Huber leads the team and the league in goals with 10. Goalkeeper Monica Polgar also leads the league, but it’s total saves with 82. Huber also leads the league in points and shots.

Schedule-wise, the Bison haven’t lost at home since a Sept. 8 loss to Hawaii by a 0-1 score. As of the print time, with 13 games in the books, North Dakota State has been shut out a grand total of four times. The aforementioned Hawaii match, an exhibition against Viterbo (0-3), Northern Iowa (0-3) and Omaha (0-1). Western Illinois has defeated both Northern Iowa and Omaha.

The South Dakota State game kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday via Jackrabbits All-Access. The North Dakota State game kicks off at 1 p.m. Sunday via NDSU All-Access.

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