Flashes start season on sour note with loss to Butler

Kent State senior forward Cameron Shedenhelm battles Butler’s Gabby Smith during the first half of their matchup on Aug. 16, 2018. Butler beat the Flashes, 3-1.

Cameron Hoover

It’s a risk you run whenever you schedule your first opponent of the season to be one of the 64 teams in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and the Kent State women’s soccer team saw that decision backfire with a 3-1 loss to Butler on Thursday.

The Flashes (0-1) were let down by a defensive unit that only allowed 13 goals throughout the entire 2017 regular season. The team only allowed three goals in a game once last year, their 18th contest of the campaign against Bowling Green on October 22.

Kent State coach Rob Marinaro immediately pointed out the team’s set piece defense as an area that would have to be improved quickly.

“Individual defending and commitment to winning battles really let us down today,” Marinaro said. “Against a team like (Butler), they’re going to make you pay the price for it.”

The Bulldogs (1-0) opened the scoring in the 10th minute when a deep cross from junior forward Cassidy Blacha found freshman Anja Savich in the Kent State penalty area. Savich chested the ball down and poked a left-footed shot past Flashes goalkeeper Faith O’Neill for her first career goal.

Kent State responded almost immediately though, as three minutes later a header from sophomore midfielder Maddie Holmes bounced over the head of a Butler defender. Isabelle Mihail, fresh off a summer with the Romanian national team, chipped goalkeeper Hannah Luedtke to knot the scoring at 1.

“We answered really strongly,” Marinaro said. “We scored a real nice goal on the counter-attack. That’s what’s going to build us into a stronger team. There’s a lot to learn, and we’ll keep on building from that.”

The match stayed deadlocked until the 41st minute. Butler earned a throw-in, and after a long ball into the six-yard box created a scrum, freshman midfielder Morgan Kloosterman picked up her first tally for the Bulldogs, giving Butler a 2-1 lead heading into halftime.

The Flashes came out of the break with purpose, earning two free kicks that amounted in dangerous deliveries into the six-yard box. The pressure was short lived though, as the Bulldogs added another to put the game away. In the 55th minute, O’Neill spilled a low cross from Butler forward Paige Monaghan. Savich snatched the rebound and lobbed it over the keeper for her second of the game.

“It was our first game as a new team, so there’s always a learning curve when you have a bunch of freshmen coming through and you lose a bunch of really good seniors,” said Paige Culver, a senior defender and captain who started the season on the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List. “I think we just have to take this in stride and continue to grow as a team and learn.”

The shots ended up lopsided, with Butler peppering the Kent State frame with 18 shots, seven of which ended up on target. The Flashes could only muster three.

Culver said many of the fixes going forward will come from the mental aspect of the game rather than the product on the pitch.

“(We) just need to cut out any of the negative talk,” Culver said. “Just get rid of it as soon as possible. I think we have a bunch of really good leaders on the team, and I think that they’ll carry through and get everyone on board.”

Marinaro said the team will be able to improve upon some of its struggles going forward after facing a team as strong as Butler, which finished last season 13-2-6 and with an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

“I think it’s really important for us,” Marinaro said. “I think we have a lot to learn from it. That’s one of the better teams that we’re going to see all season long. If we can clean some things up and play a whole lot better as a unit, then we can shape ourselves into a stronger season.”

The Flashes will look to bounce back at 1 p.m. Sunday at Dix Stadium as they play host to St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies finished last season 2-14-3.

Cameron Hoover is the managing editor. Contact him at [email protected].