The Ohio Valley Conference released its predicted order of finish for the 2021 women’s soccer season on Tuesday as the regular season for schools begins next week.
Eastern Illinois played the first of its three exhibition matches on Sunday falling to Illinois 1-0. The Panthers play on Wednesday at IUPUI and will host Parkland College on Sunday for its final exhibition match. EIU opens the regular season hosting Indiana State on Thursday, August 19.
SIUE was predicted to win the 2021 Ohio Valley Conference soccer title as voted on by the league’s head coaches and communication directors. The Cougars received 12 first-place votes and 121 points. Murray State, which won its fifth regular-season title last year, earned four first-place votes and 116 points for a second-place finish while Southeast Missouri picked up two first-place votes and 99 points for a third-place predicted finish. UT Martin is picked to finish fourth with 89 points while Belmont and Tennessee Tech each earned 66 points for a fifth-place tie. Rounding out the poll are Austin Peay (43), Eastern Illinois (28) and Morehead State (20).
In addition to the preseason predicted order of finish announced by the league, the OVC also listed a top player to watch for each squad. Midfielder Kenzie Balcerek was the Panthers player to watch after playing in all ten matches from the shortened COVID-19 spring season. She played all but six minutes on the pitch during the season and posted one assist on a match-winning goal in overtime. In 2019 Balcerek started the first 11 matches of the season before missing the final portion of the year due to injury. She had one assist in 2019.
Balcerek joins returning second team All-OVC selection Itxaso Aguero who led the team in points last season. EIU also returns Nicoletta Anuci who tied for the team lead in goals and Pilar Barrio who led the Panthers in assists.
The soccer regular-season will get underway on August 19 with the OVC Championship taking place at campus sites on October 29-31 and Nov. 5-7.