Field hockey starts MAC Tournament play

Rachel Jones

The Kent State field hockey team hopes the third time will be the charm as it enters the Mid-American Conference Tournament today at 11 a.m.

After earning their third-straight MAC regular season championship, the Flashes (13-6, 8-2 MAC) will play Central Michigan (6-13, 3-8 MAC) in the semifinal game. Previously this season, Kent State defeated the Chippewas 2-0 on Oct. 1 and 8-1 on Oct. 24.

“It’s pretty exciting to get to this part,” said junior back Stephanie Arbelaez. “We’ve been preparing ourselves a lot for this (all season).”

The 2008 MAC Champions are looking for their second title in three years and ninth overall.

The regular season championship title made the Flashes the No. 1 seed for the tournament, granting them a bye in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

“We put ourselves in a good position this season,” said Kent State coach Kathleen Wiler. “We’re just excited to get the conference kicked off and start playing some games.”

In Thursday’s quarterfinal games, Central Michigan defeated Missouri 2-1, and Ohio played Ball State, winning 5-0. The Bobcats will face Miami in the other semifinal game on Friday.

The winner of the entire tournament will face the Patriot League Champions next Tuesday. This play-in game will propel its winner to the NCAA tournament.

“With the opportunity to advance to the next level, it’s more intense,” Arbelaez said. “You have more to lose.”

Wiler said the “one-and-done” nature of the tournament also makes it crucial for the team to win this semifinal game.

The Flashes are familiar with the pain of losing a semifinal game. Last season, Kent State fell to Miami 2-1 in overtime.

“Last year was disappointing,” Wiler said. “But we’re a different team, a different seed, and we’re looking forward to playing.”

Senior midfielder Rachel Miller leads the solid lineup as the reigning MAC Player of the Year and one of 38 players selected to play in the 2010 NFHCA Division I Senior Game on Nov. 20.

The two-time All-American leads the team with 49 career assists and is second with 44 goals.

Leading in goals is junior forward Debbie Bell with 72, smashing the previous Kent State record of most career goals (65) set in 1998.

And the backfield is just as strong.

With 41 victories in goal, senior Caroline Suitch is tied for third place for most career wins at Kent State.

Suitch is supported by junior back Carla Johl, who leads the defense with 10 career goals, and Arbelaez, who is tied with junior defender Amy Wimsatt for the most assists in the backfield (3).

The domination from each section of the field has led to a six-game winning streak at the end of the regular season.

“We’ve had a nice string of wins,” Wiler said. “We’re going into this tournament with a lot of momentum. We just need to get the job done.”

Arbelaez said she is confident for today’s game and that the team has plans to dominate the entire tournament.

“Right now, we’re just trying to keep focused,” she said. “We’re not trying to do anything fancy.”

Contact sports reporter Rachel Jones at [email protected]”.