Coach Scott Hall and his Eastern Michigan soccer team, especially its seniors, don’t have a hard time finding motivation.
Losing in last season’s Mid-American Conference championship game provides plenty of it. As does the constant urge to improve.
“There’s nowhere else to go but win the MAC championship from here,” senior defender Kelly Poppaw said. “It’s kind of how we look at it now.”
Poppaw, and her four fellow senior teammates, have improved each year during their time at Eastern. As freshmen, they lost nine one-goal games and failed to make the postseason. As sophomores, they lost in the first round of the conference tournament.
And as juniors, they lost the aforementioned title game to Toledo, 1-0. That’s something they definitely don’t want to repeat.
“I think anything less than (winning the MAC championship) would be a disappointment,” said senior forward Ashley Rodrigues, who had 12 points on last season’s 13-5-5 team.
The Eagles couldn’t have started their march to that elusive title any better, either.
They opened their season this past weekend with home wins over Eastern Illinois (1-0) and Indiana State (2-1).
“It’s always good to get a couple wins under your belt,” said Hall, whose only complaint of the opening weekend was the inclement weather. “We’re starting to kind of feel our way through and starting to get ourselves back on track.”
Against Indiana State, Eastern played a scoreless tie in the first half and took a 1-0 lead midway through the second, a half in which it out shot its opponent 14-2.
ISU scored in the 84th minute, but sophomore midfielder Amanda Marsh responded with the go-ahead, winning goal on a header in the 88th minute.
“The nice part about this team, I think it carried over from last year, is the never-say-die attitude,” Hall
said. “I think we showed some of our senior leadership. It showed through there.”
Poppaw and Rodrigues embrace and take pride in their role as leaders, and they encourage building team chemistry.
“We kind of try to create an atmosphere that’s very free and open,” Rodrigues said. “(The underclassmen) can come to us whenever about whatever, it doesn’t matter what it is, on and off the field. We’re lucky to have a close group this year.”
Eastern continues its season against Michigan at 2 p.m. Sunday at the U-M Soccer Complex in Ann Arbor. The teams played a 2-2 tie in last season’s opener.