Soccer begins its 25th season with help from rookies

Jacob Shondel, Sports reporter

After losing four field regulars, Kent State women’s soccer will rely on nine freshmen this year.

“We have had to get freshmen involved in areas held down by seniors a year ago,” head coach Rob Marinaro said. “It’ll be challenging to replace those players, so we need the time as a whole to step up.”

Top scorers forward Cameron Shedenhelm and defender Karly Hellstrom have graduated, along with forwards Khyla Porter and Autumn Meisenburgh.

Each of KSU’s underclassmen have logged more than 50 percent of the team’s minutes so far this season.

This year marks the program’s 25th season. Marinaro was the assistant coach the program’s first four years then became head coach in 2001.

Going into this season, Mariano’s record as head coach rests at 196-158-45. He saw early success, winning the conference two of the team’s first four seasons.

In 2016, KSU won a program-high 15 games and made it to the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“Making it to the tournament and winning the 2017 Mid-American Conference championship was very memorable,” Marinaro said. “We’ve been able to be one of the most successful teams in the MAC over the past 10 years and that speaks volumes to the young ladies that come in and contribute to Kent State soccer.”

Since 2012, Kent State has finished fourth or better in the MAC six times, garnering one championship win and three second-place finishes.

The Flashes ended the 2021 season 13-5-3 and lost to Bowling Green in the MAC championship game.

This season, Ohio was selected to finish first in the 2022 MAC coach’s preseason poll. KSU was picked to finish fourth. Bowling Green and Buffalo place above Kent State.

MAC play begins Sep. 22 against Ohio.

KSU will be without their top scorers from a year ago, so Marinaro had to rely on his consistent defense.

“The strength of our team has to come from the defense because we have little more experience on that side of the field,” Marinaro said, “then having everyone on offense step up a little more than what they’re used to contributing.”

Reigning MAC defensive player of the year Tianna Harris believes her experience will be essential this season.

“I just want to be the best teammate I can be,” the redshirt senior said, “by being able to take anyone new and communicate and lead the back line as best as possible.”

Harris ranked third in goals last season, scoring four.

KSU starts this season 0-3-1. The Flashes only goal came from forward Callie Cunningham. Last year through four games, they scored 10 goals.

“A slow start from a result standpoint, but I’m proud of this group,” Marinaro said. “The work done in the offseason is starting to show. It’s a combination of our youth and the level of teams we’ve played so far.”

“Oakland and Dayton are expected to be at the top of their respective conferences, and Cleveland State has always given us close games.”

Marinaro says once confidence builds, the offense will find its way.

“It’s trying to get a little bit more team offense going,” he said. “We need a couple of lucky breaks here and there, and they just need to continue working and believing in their capabilities.”

After winning defensive player of the year last year, Harris has her eyes on more this season.

“I want to go bigger and be the MAC player of the year,” she said. “Then for our team, I know our goal is to go back to the championship but this time win it. But for all that to happen, I need to be the best leader for my teammates.”

The Flashes will be back in action when they travel to Baltimore, Maryland, facing off against Loyola at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

“We just have to continue improving every day,” Marinaro said, “challenging each other so when conference play comes around, we are at our best.”

Jacob Shondel is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].