(Orientation) Women’s soccer uses 2015 quarterfinal loss as learning example

Nick Buzzelli

If there’s one thing that senior Abbie Lawson learned after being eliminated from the Mid-American Conference Tournament by Miami (OH) on penalty kicks, it’s to consistently finish the small opportunities and play a scrappy game, always fighting for every loose ball.

After that day, senior Jenna Hellstrom realized that her team can’t let itself get in a position like that again.

In the MAC women’s soccer quarterfinals on Nov. 1 at Dix Stadium, Kent State was doing everything it could to secure a playoff victory.

Sophomore goalie Ashleah McDonald stopped everything the RedHawks threw at her during the first 110 minutes and the Flashes led the game in corner kicks and outshot Miami, 5-3, in the two overtime periods.

But the fate of the season came down to a series of kicks from 12 yards out against Miami’s Vic Maniaci, the league’s leader in shutouts and goals against average in 2015.  

Hellstrom booted the ball past Maniaci for her penalty kick. So did then-senior Madison Helterbran and Lawson. However, it wasn’t enough since the RedHawks scored on all five of their kicks, effectively ending Kent State’s season at 11-6-3.

But then again, that was 10 months ago. Now the Flashes are able to look back on that deflating moment as a learning example, analyzing what was done well and what aspects of their game need improvement over the course of the next 11 weeks.

“We’re beyond that now and we’re focusing day-by-day on our progress,” Lawson said.

Lawson and her teammates have plenty to look forward to during the 2016 campaign.

Kent State inked six freshman since then, including Maddie LaVigna – the younger sister of senior Abigail LaVigna – and the Flashes have four first-time opponents on the schedule and play two Power-5 programs in Ohio State University and the University of Pittsburgh.

“I was always the type of player that looked a lot down the road. Now I’m starting to take it game by game,” said Hellstrom, a native of Sudbury, Ontario. “ If we win this game, then we move on to the next one instead of worrying about, ‘Okay, we need to win this one to be in this place in the standings.’ I think with our team, if we’re on our game we can beat any opponent that we play against this year.”

It won’t be an easy task for the Flashes to get over the hump that is the conference quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. But it helps that there are five seniors and nine starters returning who know how to play with one another in close contests.

“I think it’s important … understanding how every teammate works and operates and plays as a soccer player,” said Lawson, who started all 20 games last season at the midfield position. “And then having been in that high-pressure situation, (it) kind of gives an understanding and a baseline for how hard we have to push and work to get back to that point and surpass those expectations.”

Despite recording a 34 point season in 2015 – the third-highest scoring mark in school history –individual accolades aren’t as important to Hellstrom as Kent State’s performance on the pitch.

If anything, even the thought of adding to that total gets pushed to the back burner in favor of doing anything she can to help the program.

If she takes it one game at a time, though, the points will come. But more importantly, so will the wins.

“I don’t think it’s about the points. They’ll come if I just focus on what I have to do. I’m not going to be saying, ‘I need to score, I need to do this,’” she said. “We’re an extremely skilled team this year and we’ve been working extremely well together throughout this preseason and I’m just going to go into every game with that mindset.”