Ohio will close out its regular season Thursday on the road against the defending Mid-American Conference Champions, Kent State. The Bobcats enter this week’s match on the bubble in the conference playoff race once again.
The Bobcats (7-9-2, 4-4-2 MAC) are currently in fourth in the MAC East division. The top eight teams in the standings at the end of the regular season qualify for the conference tournament.
In the MAC West, Western Michigan (9-7-1, 4-5-1 MAC) sits in fourth while its in-state rival Eastern Michigan (7-11-1, 4-6 MAC) is fifth. The Bobcats will only have to beat out one of those two teams to punch their ticket to the tournament.
A win or tie against Kent State would automatically qualify the Bobcats for the MAC tournament. If the Bobcats lose, they'll have to rely on Central Michigan to either tie or beat Eastern Michigan or Northern Illinois to either tie or beat Western Michigan.
Ohio controls its own destiny.
With that, however, comes added pressure. Freshman Jenni Santacaterina knows the Bobcats need to treat the upcoming match like a tournament match.
“In the tournament, it’s win or go home,” Santacaterina said. “So we are just getting used to that pressure and hopefully if we win, we can go into the MAC tournament confident that we know how to deal with the pressure in that game situation.”
Kent State (12-5-1, 8-2 MAC) is coming off a rare in-conference loss to Bowling Green on Sunday. It was the first loss for the Golden Flashes in five games. They still sit atop the MAC standings, hwoever, and will be vying for a regular season championship and a top seed in the tournament.
The Golden Flashes have a very potent defense that has recorded 11 shoutouts this season and has only allowed 12 goals. On offense, the Golden Flashes are led by the freshmen quartet of Vital Kats, Isabelle Mihail, Cameron Shedenhelm and Rachel Ernst. The four have combined for 14 of the team’s 22 goals this year.
Despite the numbers on paper, the Bobcats are not letting the hype surrounding Kent State get to their head.
“I think they’re a very beatable team,” Santacaterina said. “I think if we just play our game, try to possess the ball, get in those crosses, and find a way to get set pieces, we can capitalize on them.”
Coach Aaron Rodgers has confidence that his team can get the job done by maintaining a high level of focus.
“We know that we can beat anyone in this conference when we are at our best,” Rodgers said. “We need a win, but we also know that we need to focus fully on the things that we can control. And that is how we mentally approach the game, how much grit we have and how well we execute our game plan.”
Thursday’s match will be played at Dix Stadium on the campus of Kent State. The Golden Flashes boast a 6-2 home record this season and the Bobcats are 2-6-1 on the road.
In the final match of the regular season last year, Kent State beat the Bobcats 3-2 on a goal with three seconds left in overtime. Although the Bobcats haven’t beat the Golden Flashes since 2009, the all-time series between the two is tied 11-11-1. A chance to take the lead in the series just puts more pressure on an already gigantic match.