There are multiple scenarios at play in terms of how the East Carolina women’s soccer team’s regular season might end this weekend, from a Sunday match at Memphis to the outcome of other American Athletic Conference games, but the Pirates’ goal remains staying in position for the four-team AAC tournament.
ECU (3-4-2, 3-2-2) picked up a valuable win Saturday versus Tulsa and is third in the league standings with 11 points. South Florida (18 points) and Memphis (15) have been front-runners all season as NCAA tournament candidates. Closely trailing the Pirates are Cincinnati in fourth with nine points and UCF and Temple tied with seven.
“This is a great experience for our younger players, and it’s a great way to send our seniors off if we can finish in that top four,” Pirate coach Jason Hamilton said during an interview Monday of the league tournament race.
For now, ECU’s only top-five finish in the American was 2018. The Pirates were last in 2017, they tied for fourth in 2018 (Hamilton’s first season) and they tied for seventh the next year.
Hamilton added that how the AAC handles matches played by SMU, which beat Temple and then lost to ECU in mid-March before having four straight games postponed or canceled, also could play a factor.
He also said his squad’s roster mix has thrived in tying or winning close matches in recent weeks. The Pirates are 2-1-1 in their last four outings heading into a difficult task at Memphis, which is 4-0 at home.
“It is probably a little bit earlier in my tenure than I thought we would be, because we were thinking next year might be the right year where we have the right pieces to compete for a conference championship,” he said. “To me, this is just really a good learning experience for our players and kind of a bonus for us. We are learning that you have to beat the teams that are at the bottom and you have to get some results against those top few teams to put yourself in that mix.”
ECU lists eight seniors and 16 freshmen on its roster.
Senior performances last Saturday, when the Pirates beat Tulsa 4-0 in their final home game of the year, included a goal each by Madie Knaggs and Cashlin Copley. Carsen Parker had two assists.
Rookies also have been vital to the team’s success, including freshman goalie and D.H. Conley product Maeve English.
“I think she has done an amazing job of handling the pressure,” Hamilton said of the former Viking. “I was super excited for her to be able to get that shutout during the weekend, saving a penalty (shot) late in the game. She has been really good and she gave up a goal against Cincinnati at the end of the game (a 2-1 home loss on March 27) that she probably wishes she had back, but outside of that one goal, the goals that have been scored on us haven’t been anything to do with her. I’m not sure what goalkeeper could save those.
“For her to rebound from that game and get a shutout, I was just super excited for her because that was a really good thing for her mentally to get back at it. That is the toughest thing with that is it’s such a mental position.”
English on Monday was named American goalkeeper of the week for the third time. She had six saves for her second shutout.
She has worked well with lead defensive players in front of her as East Carolina has played in tense matches basically all season.
“If you take this Tulsa game out, which was a pretty dominant performance, every (AAC) game is a one-goal game,” Hamilton said. “We’ve had four overtime games in the conference, so really, it’s about putting yourself in the mix for every game and knowing every game is going to be tough. ... I think we’ve done a good job and kind of settled down a little bit and realized who we are as a team. ... (The American tournament) should interesting this year, regardless of what teams make it, to see how it plays out.”
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.
Wood is all-conference
East Carolina senior right side Bri Wood was named to the All-American Athletic Conference volleyball first team. The accolade is the second of her career, following her second-team nod in 2019.
Wood is the second player in program history to earn first-team honors in the American, joining Natalie Montini, who was recognized in 2017.
In 12 regular season matches, Wood paced the Pirates in total kills (156) and kills per set (3.32). She also was second-best with a .223 hitting percentage, and averaged 3.28 digs per set.