Despite missing out on NCAA berth, Southeast had one of most successful seasons ever by an OVC team.
Nov. 26, 2001
The 2001 soccer season held great promise for the Southeast Missouri Otahkians as they began the season with 12 returning players and 10 talented newcomers. Despite all the new talent a preseason coaches poll picked the Otahkians to only finish tied for third place in the league, the same spot they finished in 2000. However, Southeast had no intentions of finishing in that position and produced a season that was not only the best in the three-year history of the school's program but the best ever by an Ohio Valley Conference team.
The season started with six consecutive home games due in part to the tragedy of September 11 that cancelled game on the road against Drury, Indiana State and Indiana University. But Southeast would make the most of a home schedule by playing nearly perfect soccer. They blasted both Belmont and Jacksonville State in the Southeast Labor Day Tournament to open the season. Following those wins came two more lopsided victories over Arkansas-Little Rock and Central Arkansas to push their start to a program best 4-0.
After almost a two-week layoff after September 11, the Otahkians scrapped through a 1-0 game over a very physical Arkansas State team thanks to a Nichole Thiele goal. It was not until the sixth game of the season that Southeast would face a tough challenge when Missouri Valley Conference foe Creighton came to town. Despite a scoreless first half, Southeast hung tight and freshman Erin Slattery put the Otahkians on the board in the 60th minute to give Southeast its sixth victory of the season. More impressively, through six games Southeast had yet to allow a goal and was one of only two schools, Princeton being the other, not to allow a goal to that point of the season.
That streak would end, however, when Southeast traveled to Tulsa for the Tulsa Adidas Classic. In the first game of the two-game affair, the Otahks allowed two goals to host Tulsa, but managed three goal of their own to win their seventh game of the season. Later that weekend, Southeast once again allowed two goals but ended up defeating Oral Roberts 3-2 and claiming the championship of the Adidas Classic.
At 8-0, Southeast was riding high and ready to meet archrival Eastern Illinois. In three previous meeting, EIU had gotten the best of Southeast. On a cold, rainy day in Charleston though history would change. The two teams battled scoreless until the 75th minute when sophomore Erika Todd's shot touched the tips of the EIU goalkeeper and found the back to the net. Senior goalkeeper Beth Guccione would record another shutout after making a season-high 10 saves, including one off the foot of sophomore Beth Liesen that was definitely going to be a goal. Liesen had entered the game the number one goal scorer in the entire country. The 1-0 victory marked the first ever win over the Panthers.
At 9-0 Southeast looked invincible and that attitude cost them their first lost of the season. Two days after the emotional victory over Eastern Illinois, the Otahkians traveled to Macomb to face a mediocre Western Illinois team. It was on this day that Southeast played its worst game of the season, allowing two first half goals and falling 2-1 to a WIU team that managed only eight shots the entire game.
The loss came out a good time for Southeast as they were set to host Tennessee Tech, another OVC foe they had never defeated. A win over the Golden Eagles would put Southeast in the driver's seat. Southeast played one of its most complete games of the season, holding the defending OVC Tournament Champions to only five shots and winning 2-0 to claim a stronghold on the OVC Regular Season Championship race.
The following week Southeast recorded its 11th victory of the season, a 7-0 victory over an outmatched Morehead State team. The 11 victories set a Southeast single season record for wins in a season. The seven goals were also a record for the Otahkians in Houck Stadium. Later that weekend, Southeast would continue its offensive explosion scoring five goals against Lipscomb. The next week they would add two goals in a victory over Tennessee-Martin to bring their three game goals total to 14, a school record for a three-game stretch.
The Otahkians would then get a rematch with the Creighton Bluejays in an added game that took the place of the three that were cancelled earlier in the season. This time the two would meet on a neutral site at Sportport in St. Louis. The matchup would come on one of the coldest nights of the season but that did not keep away the almost 400 fans that came to see all the St. Louis area native players compete. Southeast would score early and then turned to defensive mode as it looked like they would scratch out a 1-0 victory. But Creighton had other plans as they scored with only 2:09 left in regulation to force the first overtime game of the year for Southeast. Although the Otahkians could have easily have folded in overtime, they fought hard and freshman Heather Reding scored her first career goal off a corner kick a mere 3:04 into the extra frame to give Southeast its 14th victory of the season in 15 games.
Southeast would then return home to battle Murray State in hopes to complete a perfect conference season and clinch its first ever OVC Regular Season Championship outright. Murray had been the last team to shutout the Otahks, winning 2-0 last season in the first ever matchup between the two schools. Southeast scored two first half and two second half goals to defeat Murray 4-0 to claim their first ever OVC Regular Season Championship in only its third season of competition.
The biggest advantage to winning the regular season crown was getting the right to host the OVC Tournament the following weekend at Houck Stadium, where Southeast brought a 12-game winning streak into the action. And a rematch loomed with their last opponent, Murray State. After playing less than a week prior the two teams looked to be pretty evenly matched, but Southeast scored a mere 5:32 into the game, and added another goal before halftime to beat Murray 2-0 and set up a rematch with Eastern Illinois in the championship game. The semifinal game was witnessed by 825 fans, the largest crowd ever to see an OVC game in the conference's four-year history.
The game promised to be one of the top games in the OVC not only this season but in conference history. Eastern brought in Beth Liesen, one of the top scorers in the country and Southeast countered with Beth Guccione, one of the top goalkeepers in the country. A mere six minutes into the game, EIU struck thanks to a rare defensive letdown from the Otahkian defense. Liesen took the ball on a breakout and snuck it by the outstretch arms of Guccione and the foot of a Southeast defender to put EIU up 1-0 before a shocked crowd. Southeast had several good chances to tie the game before halftime including an Erika Todd shot right in front of the goal, but an EIU defender was in perfect position to make the save and deny Southeast the score. Late in the second half Southeast put in a lineup that featured five scoring threats but were unable to manage a goal in the game's final frantic sequences.
The loss snapped Southeast's 13-game home winning streak, 25 game streak with at least one goal, denied the Otahkians a trip to their first ever NCAA Tournament and ended their season at 16-2. In seven conference games Southeast outscored its opponents 18-1, but that one goal prevented the Otahkians from reaching their ultimate goal.
Despite not reaching the NCAA Tournament, as a team and individually several the team had a successful year. As a team, Southeast set school records for wins (16), home winning streak (13), road winning streak (6), consecutive games with a goal (25), most consecutive shutouts (6), goals (48), points (129), corners (142), shutouts (13), home wins (10), road wins (5) and team goals allowed average (0.44) in a season.
Individually, several Southeast players had great season. Guccione finished the season ranked number two all-time in NCAA history for shutout percentage in a season (.72). Her 13 solo shutouts ranked her third in NCAA history for a single season. For leading one of the top defenses in the country and not allowing a single goal in regular season OVC play, Guccione was named OVC Player of the Year. She became the first goalkeeper and first non-Eastern Illinois player to win the league's highest honor.
Junior defender Jenny Hamilton also had a great season in captaining a defense that limited the number of shots Guccione had to face. Hamilton has named OVC Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first non-Tennessee Tech player to win the award.
Freshman Erin Slattery and Marla Gianino each had an outstanding season. Slattery recorded a team high 10 goals and Gianino led the team in points with 27. Neither won the OVC Freshman of the Year award, however, most likely splitting votes amongst each other. Both did earn, however, All-OVC first-team awards.
For improving the team's winning percentage by almost 400% in three seasons, coach Heather Nelson won the league's Coach of the Year award for the second time in three seasons as Southeast coach.
Despite not reaching the NCAA Tournament, the future looks bright for soccer at Southeast Missouri. 16 players who played this season will return along with three redshirts who will all return from injures that kept them out of action this season. This combined with another outstanding recruiting class that will most likely make its way to town will keep the Otahkians at the top of the Ohio Valley Conference for many seasons to come and a NCAA berth is not too far away.