Surprise, surprise: EMU swept the MAC Cross Country Championships. Boasting nationally-ranked groups in both races, the Eagles were the overwhelming favorites, and delivered to bring home a seventh consecutive conference championship on the Men’s side and a repeat from the Women.
If anything, Eastern outperformed my expectations, with the Men pulling off a 1-2-3-4-5 sweep with an unfathomable spread of only 1.2 seconds between their first runner, two-time MAC champ Nick Raymond, and their fifth, Lahsene Bouchikhi. There’s winning a race, and then there’s throwing your sword into the crowd and yelling “Are you not entertained?!,” and the Eagles did the latter.
On the Women’s side, Eastern’s Jordann McDermitt backed up a season of frontrunning to claim her first MAC title as the Eagles went 1-3-4-7-12. Only Northern Illinois also placed even two runners in the top ten.
Very quickly, we’re down to four. The regular season finished up Thursday with few surprises: Western Michigan indeed jumped a fading Miami group to claim home-field advantage in the MAC Quarterfinals, and Northern Illinois held off Bowling Green for the final postseason spot.
The Quarterfinals went largely to chalk, with home teams earning three shutouts: Doni Capehart, Lexi Pelafas, and Candice Uhl scored gamewinners for Kent State, Central Michigan, and Western Michigan over Eastern Michigan, Buffalo, and Miami, respectively.
The excitement, though, came in the 1-8 match, where Ball State hosted NIU. Last year, the Cardinals secured the regular season title only to fall to Akron in a quarterfinal shootout, and the Huskies matched the feat again in 2016. Sam Kambol opened the scoring for Northern Illinois in the 38th minute, and the Huskies held on for a shootout despite being outshot 12-3 and outcornered 6-1 after halftime. Yela Zisweiler, fresh off MAC Defender of the Week honors, missed Ball State’s final penalty shot with a chance to send the shootout to sudden death.
Kent State capitalizes on Cardinal misfortune and now hosts the final three matches of the MAC season this coming weekend. There’s no re-seeding, so the #2 Flashes will face #3 Central Michigan while #4 Western Michigan gets #8 Northern Illinois. Both semifinals are Friday, with the Championship Sunday at 1:00 PM.weekend.
Men’s Soccer is likewise down to four, but with one regular season match remaining and seeding entirely up in the air. Last week’s results eliminated West Virginia and Northern Illinois from the postseason, but the return of Akron’s inconsistency and Western Michigan’s protection of home turf makes for a must-watch Saturday evening.
Tate Robertson had a goal and assist for Bowling Green in a key 2-2 draw with Akron that keeps the Zips in the pack, while Buffalo and WMU both won at home to put away NIU and WVU, respectively.
The result is a packed top four and two big matches this weekend. Three different teams have a shot at the conference regular season title, three could draw the fourth seed, and no one can definitely avoid Akron.
Bowling Green, at home against the Bulls, is in the driver’s seat. A win and they’re outright MAC champs. A Bulls win gives them at least a share of the title, but they drop to third or fourth in all other scenarios. WMU finishes second with a win, but fourth in almost all scenarios with a draw or loss. Fun times!
I’ve devoted a good chunk of time the back half of this season to Longwood’s chances of sneaking back into the postseason field after some blips in early MAC play. The Lancers made it, jumping Ohio thanks to Miami’s 6-0 undressing of the Bobcats on Saturday, featuring two goals and two assists from sophomore Paula Portugal.
The result is a four team field for this weekend’s championship, hosted by Kent State. The clear-favorite Flashes will take on #4 Ball State while #3 Longwood will face the RedHawks in Friday semifinals before the Saturday championship. With Miami’s only MAC loss coming in overtime to undefeated Kent State, it sure looks like we’re on a path for a RedHawk-Golden Flashes championship bout.
Volleyball is furthest from championship weekend, and even worse, Miami-NIU was something of a dud, with Miami handling the Huskies easily in three sets, 25-22, 25-20, 25-23. It’s 19 in a row for the RedHawks and barring a big surprise ices the two programs into #1 and #2 in the conference standings, since they won’t face off again in the regular season.
Elsewhere, we saw more clustering that will lead to all sorts of tiebreaker fun in the final weekends. Ball State, Toledo, and Bowling Green are all now 7-5 with Kent State only a game behind, and the directional Michigans are all at 3-9 fighting for a single MAC tournament spot.
Matches to watch
Bowling Green and Toledo both have solid chances to move up and solidify their standing this weekend, with the Falcons getting a pair of difficult but key road matches at Kent and Ohio. Two wins would go a long way there. Toledo hosts Ball State and Buffalo, the former a chance for important tiebreaker considerations and the latter a should-win while other groups face stiffer challenges.