MAC coaches: Kent State Field Hockey team to beat

Chris Gates

When it comes to Mid-American Conference field hockey, the coaches have agreed that Kent State will win the conference.

The Flashes were chosen to win both the regular season title and the MAC Tournament, which is being played at Kent State’s own Murphy-Mellis Field. The rankings have had no effect on the team though.

“It means nothing,” Kent State coach Kathleen Schanne said. “It’s a long season, but it doesn’t mean anything right now. You’ve got to play the games. It’s a process right now.”

The Flashes return 11 letterwinners and the entire coaching staff from 2007. Last year’s team went 12-8, a six win improvement from the previous year, and made it to the MAC Tournament semi-final where it lost to Miami in the final minutes of play.

Motivation from that game alone seems to be the building block for the Flashes in 2008. Coach Schanne said that the way the team came back at the start of practice was exactly what they needed to start off on a positive note.

“The senior and junior class, I couldn’t be more pleased with the way they came back,” Schanne said. “They are fit, they are determined and the effort and energy level from a leadership standpoint has just been outstanding.”

Of the returnees, the top five leading scorers will return as well as junior Natalie Barrett. Barrett led the team in scoring after five games before a season-ending knee injury sidelined her for the remainder of the season.

The Flashes played Robert Morris on Thursday, winning 8-0 in regulation. Barrett tallied a point and an assist in the game.

“I’ve really missed playing with my teammates,” Barrett said. “It felt amazing to be back out there and be able to run around and play.”

Along with Barrett, seven freshmen join the team. Their arrival provides the Flashes with extra depth at each position.

“They’re coming along great,” Barrett said. “They fit in well to the team. They obviously struggled in the beginning, but they’ve settled in well.”

Schanne was forced to play a lot of freshmen last year, which gives the team a surplus of players with game experience. The success has created more interest in the program and helped in recruiting the seven freshmen now on the squad.

Of those newcomers, Carla Johl made a significant impact on the team against Robert Morris. Johl scored three goals in the win, and Schanne said the team’s depth allows her to add a new element to the offense and backfield.

“We play four in the back, and we like to be able to push four in to the midfield,” Schanne said. “It’s nice that I’m able to interchange.”

The youth and experience of Kent State will surely be tested this season. Four non-conference games are scheduled against teams that finished last season in the National Coaches’ Poll.

Games against Virginia, James Madison, Vermont and Albany provide the Flashes with several chances to boost their RPI.

Most of Kent State’s regular season games will be away from Murphy-Mellis Field. However, there are eight chances to see play at home. The regular season starts with a home game Aug. 30 against St. Francis .

MAC play begins Sept. 27 against Central Michigan at home.

Contact sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].