JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – With postseason play now upon the Carson-Newman Eagles, the quarterfinals of the South Atlantic Conference tournament might be the last time in the 2019 campaign that the team sees the pitch at McCown Field.
Falling out of the NCAA Region Rankings as they were announced by the NCAA Wednesday, the Eagles (10-5-1, 7-2-1 SAC) will need to perform Saturday when they host the Queens Royals in a quarterfinal match and beyond into the rest of the SAC tournament to build a resume for the final field of 56 for the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is announced Nov. 18. Should they win the SAC tournament, they would gain an automatic berth into the big dance.
Each win, and the team lives to fight another day.
"Right now we just survive and advance," coach Simon Duffy said. "Hopefully we can outwork them. These games are not going to be blowouts by any means, and it may just be one goal (scored).
"After we speak tomorrow it may be, 'hey, we got a one-nil win,' and I'm like 'yep, survive and advance.' We're on to the next."
The No. 3 seeded Eagles will host the No. 6 seeded Royals (12-5-1, 6-4 SAC) for a second time at McCown Field this season. In the first matchup on Oct. 5, C-N came away with a 3-1 win and would go on to win four of the next five matches, cementing itself near the top of the table.
Queens would also make a run of its own, going 6-1-0 in matches played after the loss at Mossy Creek, racking up wins against Limestone, Shaw, Coker, Mars Hill, Newberry and Anderson to comfortably position themselves within the conference tournament. The lone loss since then come at the hands of Wingate, who C-N also lost to on Nov. 2.
"We have to respect that they're on a good bit of form right now and faltered against a team that we faltered against in Wingate," Duffy said. "They're going to be coming down here meaning business."
The 33 goals scored on the season for Queens ranks fourth in the SAC overall. Freshman forward Nia Gaither accounts for one-third of the team's overall goals with 11, adding two assists for a total of 24 points on the season.
Gaither, a Harrisburg, N.C. product, also ranks second on her team with 49 shots and tied for first on her squad with 25 shots on goal. With five game-winning goals, she is one of only 30 players across all of Division II soccer to score five or more game winners, with only three of those being freshman.
The Royals have three players in double-digit points overall in Gaither and junior forwards Lulu Phan and Emma Rose Stockton.
Phan, a 2018 SAC All-Conference Second Team selection, has five goals and three assists for a whole of 13 points, but has not played since Oct. 9 against Limestone. Stockton has played in 15 contests for the Royals, scoring six goals and adding two assists for a total of 14 points.
In the past three games, four of the six goals have been scored by either Gaither or Stockton for Queens, combining for all three against Mars Hill on Oct. 26.
For C-N, junior forward Emilee Futrell (Wilson, N.C.) has been in top form as of late, scoring five goals in her last five games. With her brace against Tusculum, Futrell has matched her freshman and sophomore total of nine goals. It was her third brace of the season, with the first two coming against Belmont Abbey on Sept. 25 and Mars Hill on Oct. 16.
Her 27 goals in her career ranks ninth in program history, and a goal against Queens would put her in a tie for tenth in career points scored as an Eagle with 67. Futrell leads the team in shots, shots on goal, game-winning goals and points on the season.
"Just delighted for her," Duffy said on Futrell's production. "When you lose the type of players we did last year in Mags (Magda Mosengo) and Holly (Talbot-Smith), it's a lot of goals that we lost. She's mentioned it to me a few times that she wants to be a player that players can count on, and that's a big ask. She's stepped up when needed and just delighted for her."
With four saves against Tusculum, goalie Jasmine Rizk (Andersonville, Tenn.) moves to seventh in career single-season saves with 70. First place is held by Sarah Tompkins, who recorded 125 in 2011. While it's unlikely that Rizk could reach first, she would move into sole possession of second with 11 saves, surpassing her former teammate Jackie Burns.
Rizk's 81.4 save percentage also currently ranks seventh in the program's single-season record book.
Postseason play at Mossy Creek has been plentiful in recent memory. The Eagles have hosted a quarterfinals match every year since 2015, and have gone 12-1 in SAC tournament play in that time span. Staying at home poses a unique benefit for the Eagles. Had the seeds been reversed, it would be C-N taking a 420-mile roundtrip from Jefferson City, Tenn. to Charlotte, N.C., a total of eight hours by bus.
"It's being able to get into your normal routine," Duffy said on the advantages of home-field play. "We trained yesterday (Thursday), we'll go out to train today (Friday), so it's just staying in your normal routine but just the travel in itself. If both teams are traveling and it's a neutral venue, (it's) different...but I am very thankful that we're playing at home in the first round. That's definitely something we're thankful of."
The miles have certainly added up for the Eagles in years past, as well. Dating back to the 2015 season once more, C-N has played in 23 postseason contests. The experiences gained, however, have led to a team that is mentally tough, knowing what is at stake at first kick.
"This team tomorrow (Queens) stands in the way of us playing past tomorrow," Duffy said. "We need to make sure that we want to prolong our season. We want to be playing next weekend, but we're certainly not looking past this game and we understand the importance of it."
Kickoff from McCown Field for the SAC quarterfinals is scheduled for 5 p.m.