KEENE, N.H. 10/7/11 – Over the past few years the Keene State College and Eastern Conn. State men’s and women’s soccer games have had a major bearing in the Little East Conference standings and this season is no different.
Both Owl soccer teams will face the Warriors on Saturday with conference tournament implications and home field advantage on the line. The Keene State women host ECSU at Owl Athletic Complex while the Keene State men travel to Willimantic, Conn. to face the Warriors on Thomas Nevers Field. Both games begin at 1 p.m.
Keene State (8-5, 3-0 LEC) and Eastern Conn. (6-5, 3-0 LEC) are tied for the top spot in the LEC women’s standings. The Warriors (7-3-1, 3-0 LEC), ranked sixth in New England, lead the men’s LEC standings with Keene State (5-5-1, 2-1 LEC), the defending LEC champs, and three other teams right behind them with 2-1 conference records.
Coming off consecutive shutout wins over Plymouth State (4-0) and Salem State (3-0), the Keene State men appear to have turned the corner. “If we can get a win, it’s going to put us in a good position to be in the final four and get into the tournament,” said KSC Coach Ron Butcher. “Right now, we’re on the outside looking in and every Little East game is big.”
“Eastern Conn. is always the team to beat in the conference,” said junior captain Blake Nyman. “Plymouth is our big in-conference rival, but it always comes down to us and Eastern Conn. We want to have the tournament in our own backyard.”
Struggling to put the ball in the net in the early going, the Owls have found the scoring touch, scoring seven goals in their last two games. The sophomore tandem of Scott Douglas and Bryce Lawlor has started to click. “I’m pretty confident the goal scoring is coming around,” said Butcher. “We got the right pieces of the puzzle in the right places.”
The Owls don’t figure to get many quality scoring chances against a Warrior team that has given up just two goals on their home field this season – both coming in a 2-1 overtime loss to Western New England on Wednesday.
Keene State must also be concerned with the Warriors’ speed up front. “They play a real possession game when they have the ball, so defensively we have to stay patient and organized,” said Nyman. “They’re a clever and well-coached team that knows what they’re doing. “
“We don’t match up with them technically, so we have to be aggressive and play with an attitude,” said Butcher.
Keene State has history on its side. The Owls have never lost to the Warrior, leading the series 13-0-4. One of the ties came in the finals of the 2007 LEC championship with the Warriors awarded the title on penalty kicks. Last season, KSC came from behind to defeat ECSU 2-1 on a late goal by Alex Larson.
The Keene State women also appear to be peaking at the right time. The Owls, who are coming off consecutive shutout win over Plymouth State (2-0) and Framingham State (5-0), understand the significance of the game. “This is definitely one of our biggest games, ‘said senior Melissa Dempsey. “We played strong teams like Tufts and Middlebury, but this is a LEC game with a lot at stake. This will test us as a team.”
“At Friday’s practice, Irish (Coach Denise Lyons) stressed how big the game is, especially for the freshmen” said twin sister Megan Dempsey. “I think we’re ready to play them.”
The Owls have coupled a strong, speedy defense with an opportunistic offense led by junior Brittany Croteau of Swanzey, who leads the Owls in scoring with seven goals, including three in the last two games. “Being a leader, I’m just trying to step up my game and take advantage of my opportunities,” said Croteau. “Our team chemistry on the field is also very strong.”
The Warriors saw their three game winning streak come to an end on Wednesday with a 2-0 loss to Conn. College. The Owls will have to keep an eye on junior Daniela Machitto who is third in the LEC in scoring with eight goal, four assists and 20 points.
Keene State has a slight 11-10-1 edge in overall LEC series against ECSU. After dominating the early years of the series, the Owls have dropped 10 of their last 10 games to the Warriors, including a tough 3-2 setback last season. They hope their fortunes begin to turnaround on Saturday.