Soccer wins first MAC title since 2002
The top-seeded Miami University soccer team rebounded from a disappointing 2011 campaign to capture the 2012 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship defeating second seeded Central Michigan University 2-1 Sunday.
With the win, Miami heads into the NCAA Tournament with a school record 15-game unbeaten streak and a 19-2-1 mark, tying the most wins in program history. The RedHawks clinched the MAC regular season title as well, finishing at 10-0-1.
Miami's victory snapped a seven-year MAC Tournament Championship streak held by the University of Toledo and Central Michigan, and is the fourth conference title for the RedHawks, the first in 10 years. The program's first two conference tournament titles came in 2000 and 2001.
The 'Hawks and Chippewas were the top two MAC teams all season, with Miami topping Central Michigan 1-0 in double overtime Oct.19.
Miami got out to an early lead when freshman forward and MAC Freshman of the Year Haley Walter scored her ninth goal of the season in the fifth minute of action off an assist from senior captain and MAC Offensive Player of the Year Jess Kodiak.
"It's a lot like the first goal I scored against them earlier in the season," Walter said. "I saw I could get behind the defense, and I knew I had to hit it on the first try."
Central Michigan kept offensive pressure on the RedHawks though, and capitalized in the 32nd minute of play when junior midfielder Kaely Schlosser sent in a 20-yard cross, which was tapped in by freshman forward Danielle Rotheram. The game remained tied at the half.
Central Michigan continued its pressure in the second half, firing three shots on goal in a 10-minute span. However, Miami grabbed the momentum as sophomore forward Hailey Pleshakov scored 14 minutes into the second half. Pleshakov, who has played sparse minutes throughout the season, scored her second goal of the season to put the 'Hawks up 2-1.
"[Pleshakov] hates heading the ball," Head Coach Bobby Kramig said. "She's honestly not very good at it and she'll be the first to tell you that. So for her to score that goal, at that time, in that game is just absolutely remarkable ... to come in and rise to the occasion like that, what a testament to her character."
Miami's defense steadily increased its pressure, holding Central Michigan to one shot in the final 30 minutes.
"I know our attack has gotten a lot of press, publicity and recognition, but the fact of the matter is, when we've needed them, the defense has been there," Kramig said. "Certainly that was the case today. The way we killed off the game at the end - those last 10 to 15 minutes - that was professionally done."
When the final horn sounded, the team stormed the field and Miami's crowd of more than 530 fans erupted.
Central Michigan outshot Miami 9-7, but the 'Hawks held the advantage in corner kick opportunities, 3-2. However, its first corner opportunity did not come until the 75th minute.
For Kodiak, the chance to get back to the MAC Tournament Championship was a special opportunity.
"This whole season has been a dream come true," Kodiak said. "Being here freshman year and losing in the [MAC] championship to Central [Michigan] and then getting a second chance in my four years and to be able to win it, it's just been amazing. We have such a young team, so to be able to grow and mature through this season has been awesome. We've always had the talent, and finally this year everything clicked."
Walter and Kodiak were named to the 2012 All-MAC Tournament team, along with junior forward Kayla Zakrzewski and sophomore defender Courtney Zanotti. Zanotti, along with junior defender Sam Parrish, were integral in the RedHawks' back line all season, anchoring a defense that has given up just 19 goals in 22 games. Miami scored 58 goals this season.
With the win, Miami clinches a berth in the NCAA Tournament and faces No. 19 University of Tennessee 2 p.m. Sunday.
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