Top seed ready for tourney

Chris Gates

Field hockey set to play CMU in MAC tournament

Keep focused and roll like a machine.

That’s what the 20th-ranked Kent State field hockey team (15-4, 9-1 Mid-American Conference) plans to do as it plays Central Michigan at noon today in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament.

The Flashes experienced only success against the Chippewas during the regular season, winning both games by a combined score of 9-5.

Kent State coach Kathleen Schanne said her hope is that the players can trust each other and perform against Central Michigan. That has been the focus all week as the Flashes prepared for today’s game.

“I told the girls this on Monday: ‘We need to stay calm, (and) we need to support each other and do what we do. . It’s not going to take anything special to get what we want,'” Schanne said.

Throughout the season the team has adopted a game-by-game attitude, a sort of tunnel vision. Looking toward the very next opponent, while forgetting the last one, has resulted in a nine-game winning streak and wins in 12 of the last 13 games.

The same attitude remains as the Flashes enter the postseason, even though the team has known its opponent for less than 24 hours.

“I think we’re really just focusing on one game at a time,” senior back Stephanie Bernthal said, “just keeping things in our normal routine and kind of just doing what we’ve been doing and focusing on each opponent as they come.”

The tournament Miami (14-6, 7-3 Mid-American Conference): The RedHawks finished second in the conference and excelled with its offense. The team finished first in the conference in shots and goals on the season. Miami also blew away the MAC in corner opportunities with 175 on the season.

Senior midfielder Elizabeth Gilroy led the way on offense with eight goals and 13 assists, good enough for fifth in individual scoring in the MAC.

Ohio (10-11, 6-4 MAC): Ohio didn’t light up the scoreboard on a regular basis, but the Bobcats were able to keep most of its opponents’ offenses quiet. Finishing second in the conference with a goals-against average of 1.75, the Bobcats displayed its defensive abilities when they shut out Kent State 1-0 on Sept. 28 in the Flashes’ only MAC loss.

Central Michigan (8-11, 6-4 MAC): Senior forward/midfielder Samantha Sandham led the way for the Chippewas this season, finishing fourth in the MAC with 31 points (11 goals, nine assists). Though it finished in the middle of the pack in the conference, Kent State coach Kathleen Schanne said Central Michigan has “high scoring potential” and is a “very dangerous team.”

Ball State (2-17, 1-9 MAC): “Ball State: they fight, they never quit,” Schanne said. “They play all 70 minutes.”

Ball State junior goalkeeper Tiffany Shifflett started in all 18 games and saw a lot of action. Her 113 saves going into yesterday ranked second in the conference. However, the Cardinals lost to Central Michigan 5-0 yesterday.

Missouri State (6-15, 1-9 MAC): Missouri State is led by junior forward Jessica Lantz, whose 40 points (17 goals, six assists) rank second in the conference behind Kent State freshman forward Debbie Bell.

“Missouri State has one of the leading scorers on the front line there who’s a very dangerous player . It’s a team I wouldn’t count out for (the tournament),” Schanne said. “I think they’re much improved.”

The Bears lost to Ohio 7-0 in the first round of the tournament yesterday.

Schanne also has her team understanding that every opponent is back to 0-0. The players are trying to be prepared and mentally ready, while respecting the ability of every team.

“People have nothing to lose,” Bernthal said. “They’re coming after you, and you can play one team a week before and have a totally different experience (the next) week.”

The Flashes should be familiar with the five other teams in the MAC, having played each of them twice in the regular season. Their only loss came to Ohio on Sept. 28. They have not lost since.

The non-conference schedule was a rough stretch for Kent State, as it started the season 3-3. Losses to Ohio State, Virginia and James Madison – all nationally ranked – were early disappointments for the team.

The Flashes rebounded from that start with a focus on finishing each game. Looking back on the regular season, Schanne is happy with the way the players responded.

“Overall (I’m) really pleased,” Schanne said. “We took it a game at a time, (and) we got better every game. I think it’s really going to be key that we play a full 70 minutes (today).

“I really do stay in the present tense, as does this team. They do a very good job of that. I feel like all along we knew we had some really talented returnees and some really exciting freshmen coming in. I’m pleased with where we finished.”

In seven of the last nine games, Kent State has scored the first goal. The players are hoping to continue that trend, but more importantly, they want to protect the lead once they get it.

“We want to definitively finish each game,” Bernthal said. “We don’t want to let any team back in. We want to control every minute and just not let them back in the game.”

Not long ago, the Kent State field hockey team was considered a dynasty in the conference. From 1998 to 2002 the Flashes captured four MAC Tournament championships and appeared in the NCAA Tournament each year.

Since becoming coach, Schanne has focused on getting the program back to that status.

“I would say when I interviewed for the position here and spoke to the administration, that was their full intention and obviously mine,” Schanne said. “There’s such a rich tradition of successful young women here. We have all the tools, meaning facilities (and) support from the athletic department, to do that.”

Those championship teams never got the chance to host a conference tournament as this team does. The anticipation of playing at home has heightened the players’ excitement to get out on the turf at Murphy-Mellis Field.

Having only played one game in the last 11 days has the players ready to play as well.

In seemingly all sports, there is a worry of coming in to postseason competition cold. However, Schanne said she thinks the time off is a good thing.

“(The break) helps, absolutely,” she said. “We were pushing them really hard up until about two weeks ago. The thing is, when you’re pushing, you’re pushing, the body’s breaking down, it’s breaking down. And now their bodies, they should feel the best they’ve ever felt . by design.”

Contact sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].