Miami junior midfielder/forward Haley Walter fights for the ball during a game against Toledo.
Photo by Connor MoriartyBy Justin Woods, For The Miami Student
Sitting in second place in the Mid-American Conference standings, the Miami University soccer team (10-2-1) wraps up its home regular season slate this weekend against the Northern Illinois University Huskies (5-7-2) and the Western Michigan University Broncos (9-4-1).
With six conference matches down and five to play, the RedHawks (13 points) are looking up at only the University at Buffalo (14 points), which is unbeaten in the MAC with a 4-0-2 record.
"We're in a pretty good position right now," head coach Bobby Kramig said. "I'm happy with how we're playing and I'm happy with where we stand."
But this weekend will not offer any respite from the competition.
Both NIU and WMU hold winning conference records and, according to Kramig, will demand nothing less than Miami's best soccer.
"These are two very difficult games," Kramig said. "Northern is right there with us [in the league] and Western is a very good team that is tough defensively, disciplined and well-organized. But it's critical that we take home points when we have the chance to do it."
Speaking of teams that are difficult to break down, Miami has a formidable defensive unit of its own. The 'Hawks have allowed only three goals in MAC matches and blanked four of those six opponents. Miami has recorded seven shutouts on the season. Junior defensive midfielder Jess Bronke believes one of the keys to keeping the ball out of sophomore goalkeeper Vic Maniaci's net is to keep up the chatter.
"I think communication is a big part of our defensive success," Bronke said. "We work a lot in practice on talking to each other and clearing balls out. We're all friends, so we trust what everybody is saying."
For the half dozen or so RedHawks, including sophomore midfielder Jenna Weiner, who hail from the Chicago suburbs, Friday's meeting with Northern Illinois will reunite old friends and perhaps rekindle old rivalries.
"I know a few girls on [Northern Illinois]," Weiner said. "It'll be fun to play them again."
Western Michigan, the preseason MAC favorite, brings another set of challenges to Miami Soccer Field Sunday. Weiner and Kramig both noted the Broncos as a strong, physical side that will be hard to handle.
Bronke, a savvy veteran and member of the 2012 RedHawk squad that went undefeated in the MAC, is not letting her focus drift past the next opponent.
"Every MAC game is hard and this year especially the competition level is high," Bronke said. "We've just gotta keep doing what we've been doing and hopefully it works out."
The RedHawks kick off against NIU 4 p.m. Friday and take on WMU 1 p.m. Sunday.