EU Fall Sports strive to compete for MVC titles in 2022

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The fall sports season officially begins Thursday for the University of Evansville when the women’s soccer team hosts Vanderbilt.

There is a lot of optimism throughout Carson Center about the potential of the Purple Aces as they enter a new year with renewed energy throughout the athletics department, especially after the end of last fall. The women’s and men’s soccer teams each played in the Missouri Valley Conference championship games, losing to Loyola and Missouri State, respectively. Hopes are high again for both, as well as the volleyball program, as it is coming off its most successful season since 1988.

Let’s take a look at what to expect this year from these programs, all of which are capable of earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Volleyball

The Aces’ 2021 season ended in the third round of the National Invitational Volleyball Championship, a 31-team single-elimination tournament that is basically the same as the NIT for men’s and women’s basketball.

Now EU has momentum on its side.

The Aces return most of their starters and added top-100 signee Kora Ruff to a team that went 21-12, finishing fifth in the MVC. They qualified for the conference tournament for only the second time since 2008 and are optimistic about using their playoff spot as a stepping stone to the NCAA Tournament.

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Head coach Fernando Morales and fifth-year outside forward Alondra Vazquez kept busy over the summer, representing the Puerto Rico national team in international competition, and reigning rookie of the year Giulia Cardona MVC, seeks to build on success.

“We have been working since my first year here to change the way we play,” Morales said.

Before last season, he told his team: “it’s time to start winning”. With the heightened expectations that come with success, there is added pressure. Still, they could benefit by hosting the MVC tournament in November.

“Our goal is to win the conference,” Ruff said. “You hear that quite often.”

The Aces have a tough non-conference roster, headlined by No. 10 Baylor, Michigan State and Arizona State. The season begins against Wright State at the Marshall Invitational on August 26. UE’s first home game will be on August 30 against the University of Southern Indiana, sparking an intercity rivalry.

“When you are better, you feel pressure. But pressure is not necessarily a negative thing,” Morales said. “We wanted to feel that pressure, we wanted to be better, and being better comes with pressure. … We will adopt it and use it to improve ourselves.

Raphaello Perez-Colasito dribbles during an exhibition against Kentucky on Sunday.

men’s soccer

The Aces are riding off what head coach Marshall Ray has described as the “roller coaster” of a season. UE qualified for the MVC Championship despite going 4-14-2 overall

A tactical change changed the team’s fortunes, and it showed flashes of potential in the first half of the preseason loss to Kentucky. The Aces will face Division III Hanover College in another exhibition on Sunday before starting the season in Bellarmine on August 25.

With a strong core of returning players, including Jose Vivas, who was ranked among the top 100 freshmen in the country last season, UE believe they can build on the playoffs of the last year. The Aces finished fourth in the MVC in the regular season with a 3-6-1 record.

“I think (the MVC race) gives us an understanding of what we’re capable of,” Ray said.

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The Aces added some big plays in the spring, including Akron transfer Tobias Bak. These additions, along with player-led training before official sessions began, have helped UE improve. “Every minute spent together is crucial,” said centre-back Raphaello Perez-Colasito.

The Aces were competitive in most matches last season but continued to fail. Perez-Colasito attributed the turnover and run of the tournament to a change in formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-2-1, saying the former “wasn’t quite appropriate”. The team gelled with the switch and continued their run, winning four of five games for the title match.

“All the experience we learned there, we can show to our youngest,” Perez-Colasito said. “Hopefully they can show up in the years to come and we’ll know what to expect when we do this race again this year and hopefully get the ring.”

While returning a solid group, UE has a large class of newcomers, freshmen and transfers. Oklahoma Wesleyan graduate transfer goaltender Alex Vidizzoni will likely start in net and Bak will most likely start outside.

“The team looks really good. We have a lot of talent,” said first-year centre-back Carson Thomas. “I’ve spoken to some of the older guys, and they’ve mentioned how deep a formation it is and it gives us a chance to make some good runs this season.”

University of Evansville defenseman Mackenzie Folk prepares for a throw-in during Saturday's preseason game against St. Louis.

Women’s football

Coming off of the disappointment of losing in the conference championship, coach Chris Pfau is loving the look of the Aces this fall. Although an exhibition over the weekend against St. Louis ended in defeat, it showed them what they needed to build to earn their most successful season in nearly a decade.

Their opener against Vanderbilt will be another measuring stick.

“They’re going to expose us if we have any weaknesses and we’re going to find out who we are against those teams,” Pfau said. “It’s our big thing, can we compete with the big schools? Can we set ourselves up to win a game or get a result out of it?”

The Aces fired several key players, including leading scorer Emily Ormson. They also brought in some outstanding freshmen and transfers, including North graduate Kaylee Woosley and Memorial graduate Ryleigh Anslinger, who transferred from Indiana University. The EU should establish a solid base before non-conference play.

“I think we bonded a lot with the group we had and we did a better job, I think, of being really inclusive with our freshmen and our transfers,” Ormson said. “That’s our motto – among many, one family.”

Last season, the Aces finished 7-5-7, with Pfau emphasizing not conceding goals. He said when he arrived in the EU, the Aces were winning ‘about three games a year and allowing too many goals’. The goal is to have a chance of winning every game when there are 10 minutes left.

“If we do that we will have a good season,” he said. It will come down to “that extra thing we have to do in a game: an extra shot, an extra tackle, an extra great play in the box that hopefully overturns that tie.”

He said he thinks aces were in all but two games, which will serve as an important building block for the program.

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