All of a sudden, there’s only three matchdays left in the Women’s Soccer slate, and the postseason field is largely set but for seeding implications within standings tiers.
There were few surprises last weekend, with Ball State, Kent State, Central Michigan, and Miami all holding serve. The Cardinals all but have the conference’s top seed locked down, winning twice while everyone else contending for a home quarterfinal picked up at least one tie, but this entire group has just about clinched home quarterfinals as no one else in the conference is within a win of CMU and Miami at 5-1-2.
CMU-Kent on Friday promised to be a key matchup, and it delivered, with the Chippewas getting nine saves from Kristen Knutson and a 63rd-minute equalizer from Eliza Van de Kerkhove to weather a Kent State storm that outshot the hosts 23-5 on the day. CMU was without the conference’s leading scorer Lexi Pelafas due to yellow-card.
Pelafas, for what it’s worth, bounced back in a big way Sunday, scoring both goals in a win over Ohio to set a new CMU single-season record and enter into a tie for the national lead, with 15 on the season. Two of Central’s final three opponents are Akron and Eastern Michigan, who sit at the very bottom of the conference’s goals-against tables. No MAC student-athlete has ever scored 20 in a season.
There’s been little differentiation in the next tier of teams battling for the fifth through eighth seeds in the MAC Tournament, with Buffalo, Northern Illinois, and Western and Eastern Michigan all sitting at three wins. The Bulls will finish the season with three straight at home, where they’ve only lost once since the beginning of 2014, while the Huskies will spend the rest of the season on the road, where they’re 1-4-0 on the season. Bowling Green also finishes with three home matches and at 2-5-1 and with matches against WMU and NIU, could enter the picture. Akron, Toledo, and Ohio are all but certainly out.
Matches of the Week
For the second straight weekend, look to Kent State. The Flashes have a pair at home against Miami and Ball State this weekend. Win both, and they should be in line to host the MAC Tournament. Lose both and — while a home quarterfinal is likely still in the works — face dropping as far as fourth in the conference. For what it’s worth, even with a pair of draws this weekend, Kent still hasn’t lost since their season opener.
A good chunk of the conference sticks to a two-match-a-week plan through conference play, when only five matches decide the postseason (weekly plug for double round-robin!), but short of Akron, who’s almost certainly safe, I don’t think anyone is jostling for an NCAA bid, and I frankly find it hard to care.
Within the confines of MAC play, Akron is on a mission to show their shaky nonconference results mean nothing when it comes to taking care of business. After opening MAC play with a 4-0 home win over Buffalo, they destroyed NIU on the road, 7-0, this past weekend. Northern is clearly the bottom of the conference, but was coming off a strong tie against Western.
Buffalo got a strong 2-1 road win at West Virginia, perhaps their best showing since Labor Day. The Mountaineers are now 0-2-0 with both losses coming at home, no remaining home matches, and are well behind the eight ball now with trips to both Akron and Western Michigan still on the horizon.
Bowling Green’s success shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but the Falcons have two strong results under their belts with a win over WVU and a draw against Western Michigan.
Matches of the Week
With such a small conference, they’re all important, but the biggest for ultimate MAC Tournament seeding may be Buffalo-WMU on Friday. It’s the final go-round against the Broncos for Russell Cicerone, Steven Stryker, and Alec Fisher, who followed Stu Riddle to Buffalo and has quietly provided thrilling matches in each of the last three opportunities. A loss doesn’t doom either team, but a result puts each into strong position for the tournament.
Akron-West Virginia could all but ice the Mountaineers out of the postseason, and Bowling Green-Northern Illinois is a chance likewise for the Falcons to just about ink their spot.
Much like Women’s Soccer, the top of the conference keeps winning and the middle-to-bottom hasn’t quite sorted itself out yet. Most notably, Miami and Northern Illinois are up to 15- and 11-match win streaks now and are both 8-0 in conference and 16-4 overall.
The Huskies were pushed to the brink by Akron Saturday, trailing 2-1 after the third set and needing to go five. It took to the final five points for NIU to pull away, but a 5-2 run to close the fifth set secured the win against a Zips group looking for their first conference win. Elya Karsner had 20 kills for Akron, but Northern hit .429 when it mattered in the final set to take the win.
Otherwise, Toledo may be the surprise of the weekend with a pair of wins over good East Division groups in Ohio and Kent State. The Bobcats had 19 service errors, which is way too many, in the loss, and Saige Thomas, Rachel Vidourek, and Annie Beasley all had double-digit kills for Toledo in both wins.
We’re only just now hitting halfway on the conference season, but NIU and Northern Illinois are pulling away from the pack at the top, and 0-8 Akron and 1-7 Buffalo at the bottom, leaving a healthy eight teams in the middle fighting for six spots. The Directional Michigans — Western at 3-5, and Eastern and Central at 2-6 — are currently in spots 8-10, but Eastern and Central each play Akron and Buffalo this weekend, so expect that to shuffle.
Matches of the Week
Both Miami and Northern Illinois have reasonably tough challenges, against Toledo and Ball State and Ohio and Kent State, respectively. The RedHawks enjoy both on the road, while NIU will be traveling. Any loss will be a surprise now that each team has hit double-digit win streaks, but short of seeing each other, it’s a tough weekend for both.
Bowling Green and Western Michigan in particular have a chance to make a move this weekend. The Falcons get Ball State and Toledo at home, and WMU travels to Kent State and Ohio in four matches that could mean a ton for tiebreakers in a few weeks. and Ohio
Kent State continues to roll, and their win over Miami in an undefeated matchup all but secures the conference’s top seed with only a single match left.
As the season winds down we’re getting more certainty in the standings - no longer have some teams played three conference matches to others’ none - and a big match that I highlighted last week was Longwood vs Ohio. The Bobcats were 2-0 and Longwood winless, but the latter had matches against Kent and Miami already under their belt. The Lancers needed only three saves from keeper Lauren Bernard in the 3-1 win that keeps them within striking distance of Ball State for the fourth and final postseason spot.
Looking ahead, Longwood may need some luck anyway after their 2-1 loss to the Cardinals earlier in the season gives Ball State the tiebreaker. The Cardinals do have a date with Miami yet, but otherwise the only matches left for the teams are against Central Michigan and Missouri State. The Lancers will almost certainly need an upset from 1-14 CMU or 2-9 Missouri State over Ball State to make the MAC Tournament.
Matches of the Week
With Miami, Kent, and Ohio all pretty much in, there’s not a whole lot of excitement but for that fourth spot. Ball State plays Missouri State Friday and Miami Sunday, and Longwood Central Michigan on Saturday.
The only other conference game on the docket is Kent State-Ohio. The Flashes will be favored, but have needed overtime in two of their MAC wins. A Bobcat win gives them a path the #1 seed, provided they can also top Miami next weekend.
It’s all about Eastern Michigan, as it so often is in Cross Country.
The Eagle Women keep climbing in the national poll. Up to #14, they’re absolutely the best MAC group you haven’t heard of after a seventh-place finish at Pre-Nationals. The result may not be as strong as their third-place finish at Notre Dame, but it certainly shows that South Bend was no fluke. Two-time All-MAC selection Jordann McDermitt has been as consistent as they come for EMU, pacing the Eagles in every race she’s run this year.
Meanwhile — what’s this? — the EMU men are ALSO ranked now, jumping to 27th after a 17th-place finish at Wisconsin’s Nuttycombe Invitational that saw them top four teams who beat them in South Bend.
No other conference teams are receiving votes, and in fact only Bowling Green (12th Great Lakes) and Buffalo (10th Northeast) are even cracking the regional rankings on the men’s side, while Toledo, Miami, and Central (10th, 12th, 14th Great Lakes) and Buffalo (13th Northeast) join EMU in the women’s rankings.
EMU, Toledo, and Western are in action at the EMU Fall Classic this coming weekend, as is NIU at the Illini Open, but I wouldn’t expect much out of either meet with everyone looking ahead to the conference championship meet on Halloween weekend.