Field hockey looks to win MAC title, NCAA berth

Courtesy of Kent State Athletic DepartmentDebbie Bell

Courtesy of Kent State Athletic DepartmentDebbie Bell

Nick Shook

After a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to ninth-ranked American University in the NCAA Tournament play-in game on Nov. 9, 2010, the Kent State field hockey team is aiming to improve upon a season in which it won 15 games and both the Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament championships.

“The team as a whole took it really hard,” said Kent State coach Kathleen Wiler. “But the five young ladies that are captains this year are on a mission and want to move past that game.”

An interesting fact about this fall’s squad lies in the team’s number of captains. Instead of a traditional pair or trio of captains, the Flashes instead opted to name all five of their seniors as captains for the 2011 season.

“When you look at sports, you could have one captain, two captains, three captains,” Wiler said. “I think we have a really important group of girls.”

The captains, a quintet that has scored a combined total of 95 goals in the past three seasons, are led by Debbie Bell, a forward that enters the 2011 season as Kent State’s all-time leader in goals scored with 76 (third all-time in the MAC).

Bell was named first-team All-MAC in 2010 after finishing fourth in the nation in goals scored with 26. The New Zealand native displayed her scoring prowess by scoring multiple goals in five straight games, a run that began on Oct. 22 and lasted until Nov. 6.

“Debbie is a gifted goal scorer,” Wiler said. “But she can’t play without everyone surrounding her, so I think that senior class, along with Debbie, has a lot of work ahead of them.”

The senior class will attempt to accomplish a goal that has never been reached in the history of Kent State field hockey: win four-straight MAC regular season titles. However, the five captains cannot do it alone—they will need the help of nine newcomers to the Golden Flashes’ program.

Kent State traditionally recruits mostly outside of the state of Ohio, and often outside of the United States. Wiler followed this trend again in 2011, signing nine student-athletes from locations ranging from Pennsylvania to Germany.

The performance of the freshman class could be crucial to the success of the Flashes in 2011, in part because Wiler is facing the possibility of starting a freshman in goal, due to the loss of both of Kent State’s goalkeepers. Wiler’s approach to the rare situation at goalkeeper is concise.

“Coach her up,” Wiler said. “This is your net.”

The Flashes’ 2011 schedule will be a challenge from top to bottom. The 19-game slate features non-conference matchups against the likes of Massachusetts, who finished 2010 ranked 18th in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll, and 2010 Big Ten champion Ohio State, who advanced to the Final Four and finished ranked seventh in the nation. MAC play opens on the first of October with a home game versus Miami (Ohio).

“You can’t take any team lightly,” Wiler said. “I think we’re going to have a hell of a fight on our hands every time we step on the pitch.”

Kent State begins its quest for yet another MAC title and NCAA tournament berth with a matchup at home against Northwestern on August 26.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].