The Valpo soccer team took the lead in its regular season finale Wednesday at Illinois State thanks to a header early in the second half from sophomore Natalie Graf (Williamsburg, Mich./St. Francis) and made that tally stand up over the next 36 minutes, coming away with a 1-0 victory. With the win, Valpo secured its highest finish in the MVC standings since joining the Valley and not only earned a berth in the MVC Championship, but will host a first-round tournament match at Brown Field on Sunday.
How It Happened
- Illinois State threatened early on, with Valpo goalkeeper Nikki Coryell (Aurora, Ill./Metea Valley) pushing a fifth-minute shot from the Redbirds up and off the crossbar to keep the match scoreless.
- Turnabout was fair play in the 16th minute, as the woodwork was unkind to Valpo on a direct free kick from freshman Kelsie James (Carmel, Ind./Carmel) which ricocheted off the crossbar.
- The match went into the halftime break scoreless, with the two sides each registering seven first-half shots.
- It took less than nine minutes into the second half for Valpo to take the lead for good. James set up a free kick from the right side, about 35 yards from goal, and served the ball into the box towards the far post. Graf was set up wide on the left side of the box, and with a defender backpedaling over and tracking the ball, Graf was able to cut inside of the defender with a lunging header which made its way inside the right-hand post to make it 1-0 Valpo.
- Freshman Lindsey Dusatko (Plainfield, Ill./North) nearly made it a two-goal game in the 64th minute, but her shot caromed off the left post and her follow-up attempt was saved by ISU goalkeeper Daniela Grgas.
- Illinois State hit the frame of the goal for a second time in the 70th minute, as a scramble in the box resulted in a shot which came back off the right post.
- Coryell was up to the task in the 86th minute when Illinois State threatened with maybe its best chance at the equalizer, stonewalling a shot from Sarah Lafayette after she was played in one-on-one.
- Illinois State had one last opportunity in the final seconds of the match with a corner kick, but Coryell punched away the corner and the follow ricocheted back off the bar as Valpo closed the clean sheet.
Inside the Match
- With the win, Valpo finishes the MVC schedule with 12 points and in a tie for third place — its best finish and highest point total since joining the Valley.
- In fact, the third-place regular season finish is the program’s best since capturing the Horizon League title in 2014.
- Wednesday’s victory secured Valpo’s first season of .500 or better since 2014. Valpo will also host a first-round MVC Championship match, its first home postseason contest since the 2014 Horizon League championship match.
- The win over the Redbirds was just Valpo’s second in nine all-time meetings, but both of the victories have come over the last three seasons in the two matchups in Normal.
- With the clean sheet, Valpo has now surrendered one goal or fewer in 10 of 11 matches this year. In addition, 10 of Valpo’s 11 fixtures have been decided by one goal or have been draws.
- Graf’s goal was her first of the season and her first since scoring in the 2019 regular season finale against UNI. Notably, each of her last two goals have helped Valpo clinch a spot in the MVC Tournament.
- It also was the first match-winner of Graf’s three career goals.
- James’ assist was her second of the season, pushing her team-best points total to eight. Both of James’ helpers have come on match-winning goals in Valley wins.
- Coryell posted her fifth shutout of the season with Wednesday’s clean sheet, tied for ninth-most in a single season in program history despite the shortened campaign. The rookie made a season-high nine saves in the win.
- Illinois State ended up with a 23-11 advantage in shots and put nine shots on goal to Valpo’s five. The Redbirds also attempted 10 corner kicks.
Thoughts From Coach Marovich
“Everyone who played for us today really filled their role and played within themselves. To get three points on the road against a quality team, knowing what was on the line, and to finish third in conference is a tribute to the players' mentality and the work that they put in over the last 15 months.”
“I think at the beginning of the game, we weren't quite on the front foot. By the 15th minute, we settled into the game, and I really liked our last 30 minutes of the first half.”
“After halftime, the game started to become a bit more direct. Everything came together well for our goal - it was a great service from Kelsie on the set piece, and Nat had a great header on it for a really good finish.”
“After we got the lead, from that point on, it was about seeing the game out. Knowing it was going to get very direct, we knew we were going to have to win a lot more headers and win a lot more challenges. All credit to our players, they battled and fought for it and came out with the win.”
Valpo (4-3-4, 3-2-3 MVC) will be the third seed for the upcoming MVC Championship and host sixth-seeded Evansville in a first-round tournament match Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. The match will be broadcast live on The Valley on ESPN. Links for the live video, as well as live stats, will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.