Soccer hosts MAC tournament for first time in history

11%2F3%2F16+Kent+State+soccer

11/3/16 Kent State soccer

Carly Evans

The Kent State soccer team ended its Wednesday practice on penalty kicks. This is not rare in the regular season, but in the postseason, a missed penalty kick can be the difference between the end of a team’s season or the beginning of a playoff run.

It can be the difference between looking forward to the next season or making history.

The Flashes are hoping to do what no Kent State team has done before them — win a Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship.

The second-seeded Flashes won their first conference tournament game since 2012 last Sunday in a 2-0 win over seventh-seeded Eastern Michigan University.

The top seed in the tournament, Ball State University, was knocked out of the playoffs by No. eight seed Northern Illinois nUafter a 1-1 tie sent them to overtime. Northern Illinois advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks.

“Going into MAC play, we always say anything can happen,” said senior midfielder Abbie Lawson. “It just reiterates that. It happened last year to Ball State and here it is again. It kind of keeps us humble and stay in the mindset that we have to work no matter who our opponent is.”

Ball State’s loss means that the Flashes will host the remainder of the tournament being the highest remaining seed. This is the first time in program history they’ve hosted the tournament.

“Winning streaks and the amount of goals scored are all records that can be broken,” Lawson said. “But to be the first in history is never going to change. It’s pretty cool to be a group of 23 young ladies setting that first milestone.”

For a team that’s been so successful this season, the coach and player relationship is key.

“They have our back and look out for us,” said sophomore defender Paige Culver. “We have a personal relationship and that’s important because then they understand how you operate. The fact that they take the time out to learn about us enhances the relationship.”

For Head coach Rob Marinaro, it’s been easy to form relationships with the players.

“They’re a tremendous group on and off the field,” Marinaro said. “When we train and play they’ve given us the effort and showed the desire to be successful, and that makes life extremely easy as a coach. The fact that they’re a great group of women makes the relationships even easier. We try to create a family atmosphere, and we try to draw that from the top to the bottom.”

After last week’s overtime win against Ohio University, junior forward Hayden Pascoe was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Week. She scored the winning goal in overtime with four seconds to go. The Flashes won 3-2. Pascoe now has five goals and five assists on the season.

“She’s been a fantastic player as far as her work rate and her desire,” Marinaro said. “She’s been dealing with a little bit of an injury and just keeps plugging away. You have to give her tons of credit for the effort and battle she gives us day in and day out.”

Kent State will play Central Michigan University Friday in the semi-finals at 7 p.m. in Dix Stadium. Earlier this season, Central Michigan snapped the Flashes’ 10- game winning streak in a 1-1 tie.

“You can look at how (Central Michigan) played us a few weeks ago and how they’re playing now,” Marinaro said. “They play a very strong defensive game and they have some great forwards that can put a lot of pressure on us. We can look to defend them and strategize against them but our focus has always been what we can do and how we can impact the game.”

If Kent State wins Friday, the team will play the winner of the Northern Illinois and Western Michigan on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the MAC tournament finals. The Flashes beat both teams in the regular season.

“Once you’re in the tournament, it’s anybody’s game,” Culver said. “Everybody goes at it and everybody’s working hard.”

Carly Evans is a sports reporter, contact her at [email protected]