The Winthrop women's soccer team has shaken off a cold start to the Big South Conference schedule.
The Eagles lost their first three conference matches but have bounced back by going 3-0-2 since. Even so, the team was outside early Tuesday morning preparing for its regular-season finale. Temperatures were in the 30s.
Winthrop plays at 7 tonight at Eagle Field against Radford. The Eagles are in sixth place in the Big South at 3-3-1. Radford is in fifth at 2-1-4.
The 0-3 start was not what the team wanted nor the way midfielder/forward Erin Foote wanted her senior year to go.
"That's not ever how you want to start, especially in my senior year. Thankfully, we have turned it around. I'll take five unbeaten games any time," Foote said.
Winthrop coach Melissa Heinz never lost hope.
"I always believed in the kids and their abilities. This is a good team and a good group," Heinz said.
She said they learned something from each of the three losses. But that didn't make the start easy for anyone.
It did spur a new practice drill. Heinz, along with assistant coaches Johnathan Brabson and Sonia Rodriguez, borrowed bulky blocking pads from the women's basketball team. Heinz thought her players were losing the ball too easily when they were bumped by opponents.
"It was a good way to shove them around, legally," Heinz said with a big grin.
Whether the drill was responsible for the turnaround is unclear, but it allowed everyone to vent some frustration.
The conference tournament will be hosted by High Point on Nov. 6-9. Teams are now jockeying for tournament seeds with Coastal Carolina (6-2), Charleston Southern (4-1-3) and VMI (4-2-1) still in the mix for the regular-season title.
Winthrop can finish anywhere from third to seventh in the 10-team conference. A win tonight, and some help from the rest of the league, can vault the Eagles from sixth place into third. A loss can drop the team no lower than seventh.
"Clearly, there are a couple teams looking for first and second. And there are three teams at the bottom. But the middle is interesting. We have to do the best we can," Heinz said.
Presbyterian will not be eligible for postseason play until the 2011 season, meaning one other team will miss the field of eight for the BSC tournament.
"I think there was a realization when we were 0-3, knowing that one team wasn't going to make the tournament, that we might be that team," Foote said. "We couldn't score goals until we changed back to a 4-4-2 set. It was just a matter of getting some confidence when that first goal went in."
With her last college game on the horizon, Foote can look back at games against Radford.
Like the first time she played the Highlanders. It was in Virginia. Radford scored in the first 30 seconds of the match off the kickoff. That was the final score, 1-0.
Last year, Winthrop trailed 1-0 at Radford. The Eagles scored in the final minute to tie the game, then won the game with an early goal in overtime.
Foote is the school's all-time leader in assists. She is tied with freshman Chelsea Tidwell for the team-lead with four goals this season.