With just a final weekend left in the regular season, the East Tennessee State women’s soccer team has to play its way into the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.
The Lady Bucs are tied for seventh place heading into a Friday night match at Lipscomb. They need to win there and again Sunday at Northern Kentucky to assure themselves of a postseason berth.
Only the top six teams advance to the A-Sun tournament.
“If we take care of our business, we should be fine,” coach Adam Sayers said Wednesday. “We’ve got a good team. Our goal right now is to get into the tournament, and I’m pretty sure no one will want to play us then.”
The Lady Bucs (6-8-2) were picked third in the preseason poll, but it’s been a strange ride since conference play began. They won two of their first three matches, but have three losses and a tie in the last four.
They were routed 3-0 by Jacksonville in their last home match, dropping them to 2-4-1 in conference.
“It’s been a strange couple of weeks, really,” said Sayers. “We had a one-nil lead at Florida Gulf Coast, then conceded a freak goal and had a penalty at the end to lose 2-1. Against North Florida we had 46 shots on goal, which is unheard of, and we had to settle for a tie.
“I’m not taking anything away from these teams. We’re just not getting the rub of the green.”
The Lady Bucs have also had injuries to deal with. Three players have gone done with torn knee ligaments. Freshman midfielder Molly Collinson missed the first six weeks, then returned with a flourish only to suffer a broken nose at Stetson on Oct. 13.
The men’s team, meanwhile, seems to be picking up steam for postseason play.
Heading into a Wednesday night match at Northern Kentucky, the Bucs were 4-0-1 over their last five matches and stood second in the A-Sun behind unbeaten Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles handed them their only conference loss, 2-1 at Summers-Taylor Stadium, on Oct. 11.
The Bucs have a week off before hosting USC Upstate on Oct. 30.
The volleyball team saw its nine-match winning streak snapped last Friday night at Jacksonville. The Dolphins rallied to win 25-19, 22-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-13 in a matchup of the top teams in the Atlantic Sun.
“It was a case of JU doing a great job in their gym and playing to their strengths,” coach Lindsey Devine said Wednesday. “We definitely had opportunities within our control and were unable to execute. In fifth sets, you have to play very clean volleyball. Unfortunately we gave away nine points with unforced errors.”
The Bucs (15-7) bounced back, however, with victories over North Florida and Mercer to improve to 9-1 in the standings. That leaves the defending champs tied with Jacksonville, which carries a gaudy 19-2 overall record.
The teams will tangle again to finish the regular season Nov. 16 at Brooks Gym. The Bucs play seven of their last nine matches at home, where they’ve lost only one set all season.
“We don’t want to look so far ahead. We have to stay focused,” said Devine. “I know we love playing in Brooks Gym, with our community and students that come out to support us. We weathered the storm on the front end of the schedule with all those road matches, and I hope that works in our favor at the end.”
And if it all comes down to a rematch with Jacksonville?
“We look forward to them coming to our gym,” said Devine. “We have very similar styles, but I think they’ll see some different things the second time around.”
Rhys Pugh has become a fixture in the top 10 of golf tournaments this fall.
The junior from Wales tied for 10th last weekend in the prestigious U.S. Collegiate Championship at the Golf Club of Georgia. The event included 12 teams and 11 individuals currently ranked in the Golfweek poll.
Pugh shot 3-under-par 213 to post his fourth straight top-10 finish. He was named Atlantic Sun Conference player of the week for the third time in his career on Wednesday.
The Bucs close out their fall schedule in a big way – at the Warrior Princeville Makai Invitational in Hawaii, beginning Nov. 4.
Pugh isn’t the only ETSU athlete to pick up conference honors this week.
Katie Hirko is the women’s runner of the week after finishing fourth overall at the Blue Ridge Open in Boone, N.C. In a field of 216 competitors, the sophomore turned in a time of 18:01.54 in the 5K.
That led the Lady Bucs to a fifth-place finish out of 27 teams, their best showing of the season.
Hirko has been the team’s top runner in all four of its meets this fall, averaging a top 10 finish. The Oley, Pa., native has been named A-Sun runner of the week three times already in her career.
Up next for Hirko and ETSU is the conference championships Nov. 2 in Nashville.