School down the road gets shut out: Soccer remains top of MAC with perfect conference record

Jacob Shondel, Reporter

Before conference play, Kent State’s soccer team started the season 0-5-2.

Now two games into its conference schedule, the team is undefeated in the Mid-American Conference. Coach Rob Marinaro attributes this momentum to his “tenacious” offense.

“The resilience of this group has been very special,” he said. “For them to bounce back after starting the season the way we did is amazing. We’re starting the MAC season off the right way.”

The Flashes, now 2-5-2 overall, defeated Akron 2-0 Sunday for their second consecutive conference win. They are tied with Buffalo for first in the MAC at 2-0.

Akron falls to 1-4-2 (0-2 MAC). The Zips lost to Buffalo, who has not allowed a goal in six games, Sept. 22.

Going into Sunday, the Zips had been shut out in their last three games. KSU had shut out Ohio University in its conference opener last week.

“We’ve been making the game a little more predictable for our defenders by putting the ball in areas where we want it to be,” Marinaro said. “Our team defense is just doing an amazing job, and all of the hard work they’ve put in is paying off.”

A big part of the program’s recent success is the work of assistant coach Rocky Sasitharan.

“He’s done an amazing job with the scouting and just scouting ourselves on what we need to do better,” Marinaro said.

The head coach also credited his team’s work during its break before conference play began – the Flashes had 11 days off between the end of non-conference play and their game against OU.

“We built up practice plans for that time to really start seeing what we can be doing to be better,” Marinaro said. “Simplifying the thought process so that we can keep the ball in dangerous positions offensively, and the team stepped up making the most out of this information.”

Defensively, Kent State relies on its veterans, including senior defender Tianna Harris and junior defender Dalaney Ranallo, who have played the most minutes this season.

“Our backline is the strength of the team,” Marinaro said. “When you’re anchored by players with lots of experience, it gives the younger players more confidence when they’re out there.”

Mariano said Harris is one of those anchors. Last season, she won MAC defensive player of the year and was named to the all-MAC first team.

“She brings so much leadership to this team,” Marinaro said. “Her and all of the other upperclassmen have stepped up and given everyone the belief that they have a chance to have success no matter who we are playing.”

Sunday’s game began with a 40-minute delay.

“The conditions were pretty bad with all of the rain we got,” Marinaro said. “The team stepped up, and what I’ve talked to them about is that you have to work for 90 minutes no matter what, and today we went and outworked the other team.”

Sophomore midfielder Siena Stambolich scored the first goal 13 minutes into the game, when she stole the ball from a Zip defender and rifled a shot between two defenders and a diving goalie.

KSU would go into halftime leading 1-0. The Flashes had recorded five shots, while the Zips had two.

After an Akron penalty 10 minutes into the second half, KSU had a free kick from just inside mid-field. Ranallo fired a ball that bounced off the goalie’s foot, and freshman midfielder Kesey Salopek fired a shot into the back of the net.

Stambolich recorded her first goal of the season, and Salopek has now scored three goals in the past two games.

Sunday, Flashes recorded a season-high 13 corner kicks.

“The forwards are getting the ball deep in opponent territory and are getting the opportunity to create a good pass or get us a corner,” Marinaro said. “It’s something that we’ve focused on a lot more. It’s just another example of everyone doing their part throughout the game.”

Confidence is only growing for Kent State’s offense, said Marinaro.

“When you possess the ball the way we have been, it creates so many opportunities and opens the field up for us,” he said. “Our wings and forwards are starting to create for everyone by maintaining possession of the ball.”

Kent State has dominated its series against Akron in the last 20 years, winning 18 games in 22 matchups.

In its last 10 games against the Zips, KSU has won nine and has allowed only two goals.

“This is a big rivalry for the schools, just talking to them about focusing for 90 minutes,” Marinaro said. “That’s what they did Sunday, and the fact that it’s the school down the road is just a bonus for us.”

Kent State remains on the road as they take on Western Michigan (1-0-1 MAC) 4 p.m. Thursday.

“We have to act like we’ve done nothing and continue to stay hungry,” Marinaro said. “They must keep the mentality that they have to go in and earn it every game.”

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