After opening the Mid-American Conference season with a loss at Ohio, the Kent State soccer team has steadily climbed the conference standings and now hopes to finish this weekend at the top.
Riding a current three-game winning streak, all in MAC play, Kent State will try to advance its streak to five as they face Bowling Green Sunday (4-7-1) and Toledo (9-2-1). The combination of steady defense and a resurgent offense has combined to propel the Flashes’ recent success.
“The team is understanding that every little bit counts,” coach Rob Marinaro said. “We played well, and really worked hard as a team. Now we need to look forward and make sure we continue with the effort.”
During the streak, Kent State has allowed only one goal, coming in a 3-1 victory over Akron. Senior goalkeeper Kris Nelson has been consistent, recording two straight shutouts, totaling three for the season.
“I can play a great game, but that doesn’t mean we are going to win,” Nelson said. “It’s a team effort. The team’s playing well makes me look great.”
Defense has undoubtedly helped Nelson in her success. In its last loss, Kent State allowed 17 shots to the Ohio Bobcats. Since then, shot totals have been seven, eight, and 11. The lone goal came off of a corner kick.
“I’ve just been trying to work with the team,” Nelson said. “(The defense) is wonderful. We’ve been playing very well as a unit.”
The sound play could also very well be a direct result of Kent State’s non-conference schedule. Tough losses to Pittsburgh, of the Big East Conference, and Maryland, of the Atlantic Coast Conference, have shown the Flashes they can hang close with the larger conference teams.
With tough early losses to Wright State, 4-0 in the home opener, as well as a last-second home defeat against Pittsburgh, the Flashes have experienced first hand that they need to battle until the buzzer sounds in order to win.
“We need to get out there and work for every ball and challenge on every play,” Marinaro said. “That’s basically what they’ve learned from those losses. Now they’re battling on every play.”
As it is every year in the MAC, every game is competitive. A tough Bowling Green team visits today, followed by the first-place Toledo Rockets who are undefeated in the MAC.
“Both teams are very good, but we’re ready for the challenge and we’re excited for it,” Nelson said. “We’ve been playing very well lately so we’re looking forward to it.”
Kent State will have to put the five game roadtrip’s success behind it and look towards the next game. Overlooking an opponent, especially in the MAC, is a deadly mistake to make when competing for a championship.
“We got the job done, but now it’s in the past,” Marinaro said. It will come down to giving our all in both games. If it takes 110 minutes, we’re willing to do it”
Friday’s match against Bowling Green starts at 4 p.m. at Kent State Soccer Field behind Dix Stadium. Start time for Sunday’s match against Toledo is at 1 p.m.
Contact soccer reporter Chris Gates at [email protected]