It’s a little hard for me to believe that — even setting aside bowl games — Football is the last of the fall sports to finish its season, but tonight’s conference championship game in Detroit is a good chance to wrap up fall sports across the board after we haven’t checked in through much of November.
There were moments this season when Akron looked vulnerable. Hell, with multiple losses to unranked teams and half the conference ripping through their own nonconference schedules, they were vulnerable. The Zips took care of business once it really mattered, though, icing Western Michigan 3-0 on Senior Day and then again 4-0 in the MAC Semifinal. On the other side, Buffalo for the second straight year advanced to the MAC Final thanks to a Russell Cicerone free kick in overtime.
In the Final, UB gave better on the scoreboard at least than in their regular-season showdown, but were outshot 25-4 and outcornered 15-0 by the Zips. And yet the Bulls had a chance in the final twenty to even the game.
At the end of the day, it’s Akron. The Zips won one match in the NCAA Tournament, falling to Indiana, and Adam Najem claimed MAC Player of the Year.
It’s a long way to August, but some of the conference’s biggest names are on their way out. Najem and Cicerone, along with Bowling Green’s Pat Flynn, are both graduating. WMU’s Drew Shepherd and Brandon Bye, and WVU’s Joey Piatczyc, will return for one more year. On the coaching side, Buffalo’s Stu Riddle may leverage his success and the timing of a large senior class to leave the conference after four years in Amherst and four in Kalamazoo. The Kiwi interviewed this week for a position at UCF, where former Buffalo AD Danny White is now in charge.
When it came down to it, the 2016 MAC Tournament finished eerily similar to the 2015 edition. Ball State, the overall #1 seed once again thanks to their unyielding defense, once again fell at home to the #8 seed — this year, Northern Illinois — in penalty kicks.
Kent State, like WMU in 2015, was the benefactor, hosting the semifinals and final as the highest remaining seed. Meanwhile, NIU, like 2015 Akron, pulled another upset to reach the final against the Flashes.
But Kent, who you’ll remember boasted a 13-match undefeated streak this season, and finished just two points shy of Ball State for the regular-season title, had little trouble in the conference tournament with the Cardinals out of the way. Jenna Hellstrom had 14 shots over the tournament, including 8 against NIU, after earning MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors, but Kristen Brots was the hero in the final, scoring the championship marker in the 86th minute.
Kent State would bow out of the NCAA Tournament quickly with a 3-0 loss to Northwestern, but other than Hellstrom, the Flashes only had four seniors on the roster and are poised to threaten the top of the conference for at least another season.
There were few surprises in the four-team MAC Field Hockey Tournament, where Kent State capped off an undefeated conference season with wins over Ball State and #2-seed Miami. After pushing the Flashes to overtime in the regular season, the RedHawks and MAC Player of the Year Carla Romagosa couldn’t break through in the final, falling 4-0 with all goals coming in the second half.
For Kent State, it’s a three-peat as conference champs and the first undefeated MAC season for any program since 2000. They would fall 2-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against American University in Washington, DC. (If it’s any consolation, the Eagles then ran into #1 overall seed Duke in the second round.)
Volleyball’s sneaky-long season means that the tournament field wasn’t even set the last time I did one of these.
But for the third straight year the regular-season champ failed to take home the MAC Tournament championship. We did get another edition of Miami-vs-Northern Illinois after the two programs raced to the front of the conference pack early in the season and never looked back, but like the first, it ended in an anticlimactic sweep, this time with the Huskies coming out on top for the title, their first since 2001. MAC Player of the Year Jenna Radtke had 10 kills and 4 aces (!) in the win.
Both Northern Illinois and Miami — the MAC’s first at-large team since 2011 — advanced to the NCAA Tournament, but only combined to win one set against #18 Missouri and Oregon, respectively.
Best for last? As it has been all season, Eastern Michigan Women’s Cross Country is the pride of the conference’s nonrevenue offerings, and after Nationals I’d even put them up against Western Michigan football. The Eagles, led by Jordann McDermitt, claimed a ninth-place finish, putting themselves on a short list with Akron Soccer, Kent Baseball, and Missouri Wrestling as one of the top MAC performances in recent memory.
McDermitt capped off a stellar year with an 18th place finish and All-America honors, the first for the EMU Women since 1987. Only a junior, she returns for the Eagles next year.
Miami’s Maria Scavuzzo and NIU’s Hope Schmelzle also ran in the Championship as individual qualifiers.
On the Men’s side, EMU’s Nick Raymond was the conference’s lone qualifier, but gave the MAC a second All-American with a 31st-place finish. He’s the first such honoree for Eastern Michigan since 2006.