Kent State hopes tough non-conference schedule benefits MAC play

Nick Shook

Kent State’s start to the 2011 season has been less than impressive according to the high standards that the program has set from past success.

After eight games the Flashes stand with an overall record of 2-6. Although Kent State finished their first three weeks of the season with a record that they aren’t exactly proud of, the team still holds high hopes as it enters Mid-American Conference play. The average spectator wouldn’t have high expectations for a team with a record like Kent State’s, but then again such a spectator likely also wouldn’t know of the Flashes’ rich history of success in MAC play.

The Flashes have won the past three regular season MAC titles and two of the last three MAC Tournament championships.

Simply put, the Flashes have a tradition of winning within their conference. Therefore, fans and bystanders alike shouldn’t take too much away from the Flashes’ early-season struggles. 

A tough non-conference schedule was built by Kent State coach Kathleen Wiler in order to prepare her squad for tough opponents once conference play began. Teams such as 2010 Big Ten co-champions Ohio State, No. seven New Hampshire and No. 12 California have anchored a non-conference slate that has tested Kent State’s will early in the 2011 season.

“We play a tough non-conference schedule for a reason,” Wiler said. “We’re learning, and we’re going to move into the conference and we’ll be better for it.”

The Flashes have had issues with starting games aggressively and that was especially apparent in their last two games in which they were outscored 7-0 in the first half. The Flashes have been outscored 13-0 in the first 15 minutes of action this season which is something that Wiler hopes they can change starting on Saturday as Kent State opens MAC play at Missouri State.

“If you look at the stats, we’re out-cornering teams,” said Wiler. “ … These girls need to come together, and that first ten minutes needs to be the hardest ten minutes that they play.”

Pinpointing the reason why the Flashes have started games slowly has been difficult for Wiler, but she hopes that communication in the locker room and on the practice field will help alleviate the issue.

“I said to them ‘we can talk about it, but it’s going to be you guys,’” Wiler said. “This obviously isn’t working for us so how are you going to change it? They have all of the tools; you can see that they’re very talented.”

One aspect of Kent State’s game that Wiler refuses to question is the team’s level of effort.

“I think the first ten minutes are a little suspect, but overall they’re going for it,” Wiler said. “They’re trying. I think with the youth and the veterans, and we’re all trying to mix and mesh, and I think the effort overall is there. I’m not disappointed.”

Kent State spent much of Monday’s game versus California on the offensive side of the pitch. The Flashes outshot the Golden Bears 19-15 but found the back of the opposing net only twice. Staunch defense by the opponent has stymied the Flashes’ offensive attack, but a lack of aggression on the offensive end may have also contributed to Kent State’s lack of scoring. After scoring six goals on a two-game road trip through the state of Pennsylvania, the Flashes mustered only three goals in two home games over the weekend.

“Last weekend we didn’t really have a problem with that,” Wiler said. “We were putting rebounds in and were really detail-oriented. I didn’t see the rebounding that we had last weekend and the toughness inside of that defense that we need. It’s that attention to detail that we need to keep harping on during practice.”

Now that the non-conference schedule is complete, Kent State will look to improve and find its winning ways on the pitch. The Flashes will get back to work in practice during the week in preparation for their conference opener versus the Missouri State Bears.

“I think this non-conference part, we kind of put it to bed and learn from it and then we just move forward and take it a game at a time,” Wiler said.

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