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2021 Mid-American Conference Spring Sports Report: Week of Feb. 15

The roster of sports grows ever-longer, as men’s soccer joins the spring sports discussion!

James H. Jimenez

Another week, another round-up of the spring sports, which is quickly starting to become a bit crowded with the addition of several new sports on the horizon.

Men’s soccer joins the procession this week, with women’s soccer surely to follow. Baseball is in the process of starting up as well in the coming weeks, and we’ll have a fully dedicated weekly article for them starting later this week thanks to our baseball writer Nick Stevens! So, keep an eye out for that.

With so many sports now in play, brevity will have to be the name of the game as we move forward. Without further ado, the news:


Volleyball

As always, six players were named with weekly honors, with one offensive player, one defensive player and one setter for each division named to the weekly list.

The MAC East honorees include:

  • Offensive: Jacqueline Askin, Bowling Green, senior: 25 kills, six block assists, .327 hitting percentage vs. Ball State in weekend sweep.
  • Defensive: Sam Steele, Ohio, freshman: 42 digs, one error on 37 reception attempts vs. Buffalo in weekend sweep (Feb. 11/12.) Steele’s third award of 2021.
  • Setter: Hannah Laube, Bowling Green, junior: 79 assists (14 assists per set average) vs. Ball State in weekend sweep.

The MAC West honorees include:

  • Offensive: Franki Strefling, Eastern Michigan, senior: 42 kills, 19 attacks, 17 digs and .327 hitting percentage vs. NIU in split weekend series. 17th player in program history to surpass 1,000 career kills.
  • Defensive: Kaley Smith, Western Michigan, senior: 50 digs, four assists and a service ace in weekend sweep vs. Central Michigan.
  • Setter: Logan Case, Western Michigan, freshman: 103 assists, 15 digs, five kills, .833 hitting percentage in weekend sweep vs. Central Michigan. This is Case’s second-straight honorific in 2021.

BGSU (8-0) continues to lead the overall table and the East division, with Kent State (6-1) and Ohio (4-2) attempting to keep pace in the division. Miami (3-3), Akron (2-6) and Buffalo (0-8) round out the East.

WMU (6-2) overtakes Ball State (5-3) atop the MAC West after an exemplary performance vs. CMU. EMU (2-3), CMU (3-5), Toledo (2-4) and NIU (2-6) are laggard at the one-month mark.

In other volleyball news, Western Michigan manager Colleen Munson collected her 300th victory as the Broncos’ head honcho, joining Rob Buck as the only WMU coaches to do so. Her current winning percentage (.609) is on-pace for second in program history.


Swimming and Diving

No men’s awards were distributed this week as of publication, so this section will be a rather short one, with only one women’s swimmer and one women’s diver awarded a weekly honor. Both of the recipients this week are Ball State Cardinals.

The women’s swimmer of the week is Jay County, Indiana’s Alex Bader. Bader had strong performances over the weekend against both Miami and Xavier, finishing on the podium in all but one event she entered, including two wins in the 100 breaststroke (1:02.91 and 1:01.92 on Friday and Saturday, respectively), 200 medley relay (1:42.26), and 200 freestyle relay (1:35.27.)

The women’s diver of the week is Caitlin Locante, of Brookfield, Wisconsin. Locante, a senior, won the one-meter boards (296.25) and three-meter boards (314.25) against Miami, setting NCAA qualifying scores in the process.


Tennis

Tennis awards one award for a singles player and another for doubles teams. One athlete can be named for two awards, when the situation calls for it, though it’s pretty rare.

Western Michigan swept the honorifics in men’s tennis for the third-straight week, while the women’s honors were split.

This week’s men’s honorees include:

  • Singles: Brogan Pierce, Western Michigan, freshman: Pierce moved to 7-0 as a singles player in 2021 with a 2-0 record vs. Chicago State (6-1, 6-0) and Notre Dame (6-7, 6-2, 1-0) in weekend play.
  • Doubles: Joaquin Caballer and Peter Kuszynski, Western Michigan: Caballer and Kuszynski swept their matches this week, going 3-0 against Chicago State (6-4), Illinois-Chicago (6-2) and Notre Dame (6-4.)

Buffalo hit the court earlier this week for the first time this season, and hold a 1-0 record to top the MAC table. NIU (5-0) and Toledo (2-0) join the Bulls as fellow undefeated teams. WMU (7-1) and Ball State (5-1) hold down the middle of the table due to early losses, while Binghampton remains the only team yet to play.

This week’s women’s honorees include:

  • Singles: Emma Peeler, Ball State, sophomore: In a match-point game against Middle Tennessee State’s no. 1 singles player Lee Barnard, Peeler delivered the Cardinals a victory on the strength of a 6-1 first set and a 7-6 final set.
  • Doubles: Eileen Carney and Christina Fuller, Toledo: Carney and Fuller came up clutch for the Rockets vs. Cleveland State with a 7-6 win to secure the doubles point in a 5-2 overall victory.

Buffalo (2-0) and WMU (4-0) are the two undefeateds in the MAC on the women’s side, with Toledo (2-1), Miami (4-2), Bowling Green (1-1) and Ball State (2-2) at the mid-table as out-of-conference play continues. EMU (2-4) and NIU (0-3) are the only teams with losing records.


Track and Field

Men’s and women’s track names two athletes each week for honorifics, with any discipline under consideration for the award.

This week’s men’s track honorees include:

Track: Finley Mclear, Miami, junior: Cullompton, England’s Mclear had a career day at Grand Valley State, setting the RedHawk program record for the 800m at 1:47.47 to win the event.

  • Field: Hesham Eldesouky, Akron, senior: Egyptian national Eldesouky excelled at the triple jump, setting a program mark of 15.76m to win the Doug Raymond Invitational. The mark is 17th best in the NCAA this season.

This week’s women’s track honorees include:

  • Track: Ashley Tutt, NIU, junior: Tutt established the 2021 MAC standard and her own personal record in the 5000m at the Iowa State Classic (16:20.13) in a fourth-place finish (third amongst collegiate runners.)
  • Field: Leah Pasqualetti, Kent State, freshman: Pasqualetti won the pole vault at the Doug Raymond National Qualifier, with a height of 13 feet, six-and-a-half inches (4.13 meters.) It’s the highest mark in the MAC, and third-highest in KSU history.

Gymnastics

As per tradition, one all-around gymnast and one specialist were named as weekly honorees after another week of gym action.

It was a MAC West-centric list of nominees, with only three of the 12 names considered hailing from the MAC East.

This week’s honorees include:

  • Gymnast: Tara Kofmehl, Northern Illinois, junior: Kofmehl set season or career highs in all eight of her events over the weekend in two meets against CMU and Ball State. Kopfmehl scored a 9.7 or higher in bars (9.8), beam (9.7) and floor exercise (9.9), as well as the first two 39-point-plus overall scores for a Huskie since 2018 in the process, with a high of 39.150 vs. Ball State.
  • Specialist: Taylor Pitchell, Central Michigan, sophomore: Pitchell set the MAC season high and a personal high with a 9.950 floor exercise (including a 10.0 from one judge) to tie for a victory.

Ball State (10-0, 1-0 MAC) is the runaway leader in the MAC standings, with EMU (5-3, 3-1 MAC) the next closest team by win percentage. Perennial contender Kent State (3-1, 2-1 MAC) find themselves third after taking their first loss of 2021, while NIU (2-4, 2-1 MAC) stands above teams with better overall records in CMU and WMU (2-2, 2-2 MAC) on the strength of conference win percentage. BGSU (0-5) has yet to win a meet.


Wrestling

As could be expected of a team of Missouri’s stature, the fifth-ranked Tigers have the distinction of placing a wrestler in every weight class ranking this week, including two wrestlers in the Top 5 of their respective weight classes.

Speaking of Mizzou, they also have the MAC’s wrestler of the week in the aptly-named Brock Mauller, a junior 149 lbs. grappler. Mauller defeated fourth-ranked Boo Lewallen (Oklahoma State) by a 7-5 decision, and picked up another 16-4 victory at the same meet to finish 3-0 on the week.

Mizzou (10-0, 4-0) is predictably atop the MAC once again this week, and are the fifth-best team in the country. Rider (4-1, 2-0 MAC) and NIU (6-3, 5-2 MAC) occupy the podium spots. CMU (3-2, 2-1 MAC) edges Buffalo (3-2) by conference win percentage in the middle of the standings, with Clarion (2-5, 2-4 MAC) and SIU-Edwardsville (2-2, 0-1 MAC) bringing up the rear amongst teams in play.


Golf

Golf is officially underway for both the men and women’s divisions, with one participant per league per week receiving consideration for awards.

This week’s men’s honoree is Toledo freshman Barend Botha, of George, South Africa. Botha’s -6 (210 par) tied for seventh place and awarded Toledo a share of sixth place in the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate Invitational, hosted by South Alabama.

This week’s women’s honoree is Kent State junior Emily Price, of Ludlow, England. Price carded a 65 (-7) in her Flashes debut, the second-lowest score in program history. Price finished third overall (-2 total score) in the UCF Invitational in Orlando, Florida, scoring 12 birdies on the weekend, including eight in the second round.


Soccer

Soccer is in the preseason phase for the men’s side, with the coaches poll naming the Akron Zips the favorite to win the MAC once again.

Akron picked up three first-place votes and 33 points overall to top the preseason table, with Western Michigan (two first-place votes, 28 points) and Bowling Green (one first-place vote, 21 points) right behind them. West Virginia (18 points), NIU (14 points) and SIU-Edwardsville (12 points) round off the table.

The accolades continue to pour in for the Zips, as junior defender Carlo Ritaccio, of Westbury, New York, was selected to the third-team Best XI sheet on TopDrawerSoccer.com’s preseason NCAA squads. Ritaccio has appeared on the all-MAC team in both of his two seasons thus far, with second-team honors in 2019 and first-team honors in 2020.