soccer

ECU soccer player blocks a pass during a game.

After East Carolina University’s soccer team captured its first American Athletic Conference win Sunday afternoon, head coach Rob Donnenwirth made it clear it is now a do-or-die situation for the remaining three games if the Pirates are to clinch a tournament spot.

ECU (6-7-2 1-5 AAC) will play the first of three remaining regular season road games in Dallas, Texas to take on Southern Methodist University (6-6-3, 1-4-1 AAC) tonight at 7 p.m. The Pirates enter tonight’s game tied for last place with the University of Houston in the AAC standings, with each having three points a piece.

“There is no secret what we have to do now,” Donnenwirth said. “We have to win the next two games, and maybe the third, in order to have a chance to get in. More than likely we are going to have to win all three, but it is what it is, one down three to go.”

The teams that qualify for the AAC tournament are the top six ranked teams in the conference standings due to the points it receives for beating other conference opponents. The tournament is set up where the No. 6 seed will play the No. 3 seed and the No. 4 seed will play the No. 5 seed in the quarterfinals, because the No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed clinch a bye and will automatically be admitted into the semifinals. The tournament will be played in the hometown of the No. 1 seed, which has not yet been determined.

In order for the Pirates to punch their ticket to the AAC tournament, they will have to leapfrog Tulsa University, SMU and Temple University. The Owls currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot with seven points, while the Mustangs currently rank just one point above ECU in the standings with four, making tonight’s matchup a must win if the Pirates want to jump ahead of them in the standings.

Senior stars, defender Jenna Geist and goalkeeper Michelle Newhouse, are going to have to set the tone for the Pirates like they have all season. In ECU’s win against Tulsa, Geist recorded her team-leading fourth assist, while Newhouse posted her fifth shutout of the season, improving her goals allowed average to 1.19 per game. According to Geist, the Pirates will have to be aggressive on the offensive end against the bigger Mustang players.

“SMU has some very big players, so we probably need to keep the ball more and try to move around them instead of competing in the air,” Geist said. “We need to be aggressive and go at them to get shots off and work hard at that in order to get the win.”

SMU is coming off a season where it finished 13-7-1 and lost in the AAC championship game versus the University of Connecticut. Although they have not been able to replicate the success of last season, the tournament experience from last year will be a huge advantage for SMU as they know the style of play it will take to clinch a berth.

As the soccer season draws near to the end of the season, it will also soon be the end for the seniors that will put on a Pirate’s uniform for their final three games if they don’t make the tournament. Newhouse describes the feeling as unfamiliar, but also emphasizes how important it is for her and the rest of the seniors to finish their career by leaving it all out on the field.

“For me and Geist, we had an extra year so it’s really different to suddenly realize these are our last three games if we don’t come out the way we are suppose to,” Newhouse said. “It’s definitely do or die, so we got to give 100 percent for these last three games.”

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