Blue Raiders dominate in defeating Owls in Sun Belt Tournament opener
Middle Tennessee garners first SBC Tournament win since 2006November 3, 2010 · Athletic Communications
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Middle Tennessee held Florida Atlantic without a shot during the first half and then put the game away with three goals in the second 45 minutes to earn a 3-1 Sun Belt Tournament Quarterfinal victory Wednesday evening at the WKU Soccer Complex in Bowling Green, Ky. The win, the No. 2-seeded Blue Raiders' first in the league tournament since 2006, puts MT into Thursday's semifinals against No. 6 seed and host Western Kentucky.
The Middle Tennessee defense was the story in the opening period, as it did not allow the Owls to advance the ball very close to the Blue Raider cage in keeping the No. 7 seed without an attempt. Meanwhile, the Blue Raider offense lit up the scoreboard with 11 shots but was unable to place the ball between the pipes of goalkeeper Courtney Zwetsch.
After Florida Atlantic (6-13) came out in the second half and put its first shot on the board, Middle Tennessee quickly countered and as All-Sun Belt First Team honoree Vanessa Mueggler raced towards the Owl net, she was tackled inside the 18-yard box for a penalty kick situation.
Mueggler was injured on the play and she was removed from the field. Another member of the All-Sun Belt First Team, defender Fran Howells, stepped to the penalty spot and buried her attempt to the lower left past Zwetsch for the game's first score at 48:31.
Despite falling behind by a goal, FAU countered within a minute, moving the ball forward on the kickoff and using the attack to knot the scoring. Tamara Kesser sent a shot in the direction of Blue Raider netminder Rebecca Cushing, but the Blue Raider defense blocked the attempt. The loose ball ricocheted right to Laura Hyvonen, who then placed it into the net for the equalizer at 49:11.
Middle Tennessee (13-8) kept its composure, and after a flurry of shots, received a corner kick after the ball crossed the end line off an Owl defender. Sophomore Whitney Jorgenson sent the corner into the 18-yard box, where it landed at the feet of senior Jaimee Cooper. Cooper turned and redirected the pass just inside the right post to put MT ahead for good at 59:25.
Florida Atlantic, however, did not back down offensively. Anhnhi Tran lined up for a solid chance at tying the game once again in the 79th minute, but Cushing made a leaping save and punched the ball over the crossbar for a corner kick. It would be the last shot attempt in the contest for the Owls.
The Blue Raiders put the game out of reach in the final minutes. Junior Shan Jones fed a streaking Regina Thomas, the third Middle Tennessee player on the All-Sun Belt First Team. Thomas then sprinted past the Florida Atlantic defense and beat a charging Zwetsch on the breakaway attempt to seal the win at 86:50.
Jones led all players with five shots, while Cooper and Mueggler each added four for the Blue Raiders who finished with a 23-to-7 edge. Hyvonen was the only FAU player with more than one, contributing two to the attack.
The leaping stop was Cushing's only save of the game, while Zwetsch registered nine saves as the last line of defense for the Owls.
Middle Tennessee extends its streak to 13 consecutive matches with allowing a goal or fewer, including all 12 against Sun Belt foes, regular season or tournament.
The win is the first in Sun Belt Tournament for all members of the Blue Raider squad, as no players were a part of the 2006 triumph over South Alabama.
Middle Tennessee will play at 7 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals against No. 6 seed and host Western Kentucky. The Blue Raiders defeated the Lady Toppers 2-0 in the regular-season finale last Friday, Oct. 29, at Dean A. Hayes Track and Soccer Stadium.
Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.
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