Women’s soccer uses balanced attack to beat Akron in Wagon Wheel Challenge

Kent State forward Cameron Shedenhelm heads the ball forward in the second period against the Akron Zips at Dix Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. The Flashes beat the Zips 3-0.

Cameron Hoover

Freshman forward Isabelle Mihail approached her first career Wagon Wheel Challenge game against Akron like any other match.

“We knew they were our rivals, but we just kept pushing through it,” Mihail said. “We kept fighting. We still kept in mind that it was a rivalry, but as a team, we just knew we had to win this game.”

Mihail scored her third goal of the season to help Kent State defeat Akron, 3-0, to claim the 2017 Wagon Wheel. Kent’s record is now 8-4-1, 4-1-0 in Mid-American Conference. Akron is 1-10-2, 0-4-1.

Mihail’s strike in the 17th minute gave the Flashes the lead as senior Karli Paracca pressed Akron’s defense and created a turnover in Kent’s offensive third. Paracca seized the loose ball and dribbled toward Akron’s freshman goalkeeper Amani Jiu before laying the ball off to the oncoming Mihail. The freshman took aim from just outside the box with a low shot that bounced past Jiu into the net.

“That goal came from the entire team,” Mihail said. “I couldn’t have scored that goal without Karli’s pass.”

The Flashes added two more goals early in the second half, the first coming six minutes into the second half. Freshman Vital Kats dribbled the ball through the midfield, sliding a clever through ball down the right side of the penalty box onto the foot of junior Paige Culver. Culver took a few steps into the box and sent the ball into the middle, where senior midfielder Kristen Brots finished the play off with a low finish underneath the Akron keeper, Brots’ first of the season.

The goal from Mihail and assist from Kats show the continuous production from the team’s freshmen, said coach Rob Marinaro.

“(The freshmen) are stepping up and giving us quality minutes,” Marinaro said. “But we have to give credit to the whole team. We’re allowing freshmen to step up in those moments because of what we’re doing for them. The ball movement is excellent, and the freshmen are getting on the end of it.”

The Flashes’ final goal came just two minutes after Brots scored. Paige Culver whipped in a corner that bounced around the penalty box before Sierra Henderson-Muschett applied the final touch, poking the ball past Jiu off the crossbar.

Henderson-Muschett had never scored before this season, but this was the sophomore defender’s second goal in two weeks.

“That would be great,” Henderson-Muschett said of the idea of her becoming a regular goal-scorer. “I’ve just been getting great services, and I’ve just got to put them in the back of the net.”

The shutout was Kent State’s seventh of the season. The Flashes haven’t given up more than one goal in a game since their 2-0 loss to Florida Gulf Coast on Sept. 1.

“(The results) speak volumes to what our defense has been doing,” Marinaro said. “It’s our team effort that produces that, but you have to give tons of credit to our back four and goalkeeping.”

Henderson-Muschett said the victory over Akron sends a message to the rest of the MAC.

“I think what we did today can really set the tone for the rest of our games in the conference,” she said. “If we can continue to come out and play like this and show our rival teams what we can do, we’ll be great going forward.”

The Flashes play next at noon Sunday at the University at Buffalo.

Cameron Hoover is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]