Photo by Phil Arndt
By Justin Woods, For The Miami Student
The Miami University soccer team closed out its regular season home slate on a high note, grabbing two critical Mid-American Conference wins to remain within striking distance of the conference lead with three games to play.
Miami (12-2-1, 6-1-1, MAC) outlasted Western Michigan University (9-6-1, 3-4-1 MAC) in a scrappy, back-and-forth contest Sunday. The score remained level at 0-0 until freshman forward Kat Zalar picked up a loose ball in the Broncos' half and charged toward the goalkeeper. She slotted a low drive under the keeper's arm and inside the near post to give the 'Hawks the victory.
"I just kept running through it and I guess the center back missed [the ball]," Zalar said. "It went through and led into a breakaway, one-on-one."
Sunday's score marked Zalar's third goal of the weekend, and she nabbed MAC Co-Offensive Player of the Week for her efforts.
Zalar found the net twice in Friday's win over Northern Illinois University (5-9-2, 3-3-2 MAC). Miami defeated NIU 3-1 and outshot the Huskies 15-4.
"Kat's a great player," head coach Bobby Kramig said. "She's very athletic, she's fast, she's physical -- all of the qualities you're looking for. But she's just got this knack about being in the right place at the right time. She doesn't miss her chances."
The ever-modest forward was quick to set her tremendous individual effort aside and focus on what the weekend wins mean for the team.
"I'm very happy with the way I played, but we had a great weekend as a whole," Zalar said. "Getting all three points in both games is great for all of us."
Look no further than her breakout weekend performance to see the freshman has developed a confidence she didn't have when she arrived on campus.
"I think back to my first games and our very first scrimmage when I was terrified to be out there," Zalar said. "I feel like I've finally gotten more into the swing of things."
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The shutout victory over preseason MAC favorite Western Michigan was also a showcase of Miami's resilient defense. Kramig took particular notice of the efforts of junior Lauren Kelly.
"Number 13 for Western was all over the field today and ran LK all over the park, but she hung with her and shut her down," Kramig said. "LK was the defensive player of the week for us."
The weekend victories exemplified two sides of this Miami squad - the ability to dominate gameplay and outperform the opponent (against Northern Illinois) and the ability to scrape out a critical result in a physical, high-energy struggle (against Western Michigan).
"I couldn't be more pleased and more proud of them," Kramig said. "Western's a fine team and we knew that was gonna be a tough game. But I thought our kids responded very well, played good positive soccer, got better as the game went on and scored a very nice goal at the end to win it."