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Abby Townsend (16) fights a defender for the ball during the Ohio versus Northern Illinois match at Chessa Field on Oct. 6, 2022.

Soccer: Ohio wins first MAC Championship in program history

Ohio’s unbelievable Cinderella run ended with pure jubilation as the buzzer sounded with Ohio ahead of Kent State 2-1 in the Mid-American Conference Championship.

In the first five minutes of the championship match against Kent State, Ohio didn’t seem like the team that pulled off back-to-back upsets against Bowling Green and Ball State. In fact, some sloppy play from Ohio’s midfield and defense led to a goal in the third minute from Kent State midfielder Alanna Raimondo.

Although every early concession is a bad one, this one seemed to relieve the Bobcats of some early match jitters. Quintin Tostevin led the Bobcats with three shots in the match's first ten minutes, including one that needed to be saved by Kent State Goalkeeper Sarah Melen.

Ohio’s strong play after the first goal continued throughout the first half and culminated in a huge opportunity for forward Shae Robertson. Ohio turned Kent State over right by the penalty box and Robertson was able to get a clean look on net but the ball went straight to the goalkeeper, Melen.

The only chance of consequence for either team the rest of the first half was a two-on-one opportunity for Kent State. After Ohio turned the ball over deep in its territory, Sophomore Goalie Celeste Sloma was forced to come off of her line to make a diving save off of a ball shot from Kent State Midfielder Alisa Arthur.

Although Ohio trailed 1-0 at halftime, it had 12 shots to Kent State’s six and six shots on goal to Kent State’s two.

With the team playing well to end the first half, Ohio continued its pressure and possession of the ball to start the second half. Sure enough, Kali Stock got the Bobcats over the hump in the 56th minute. After a nice pass from Tostevin, Stock launched the ball from outside the box over Melen’s head and perfectly into the top left corner.

One adjustment that aided Ohio in the second half was the inclusion of Defender Rayann Pruss into the attack. Pruss, who scored a monumental goal against Bowling Green, had about as much impact a player can have without scoring against Kent State. Pruss consistently brushed past defenders and sent dangerous crosses into the Kent State box in the second half.

Pruss’ agitation of the Kent State defense didn’t directly lead to a goal but seemed to add to the pressure that eventually boiled over into the match-winning goal in the 65th minute.

In the 65th minute, Izzi Boyd found Carsyn Prigge, who made a quick decision to find Scout Murray on the edge of the box. Although Murray didn’t hit the hardest ball, it was perfectly placed in the bottom right corner just past Melen.

“I decided that if I was going to get it at the top of the box, I was going to shoot it, and we really needed that goal,” Murray said. “All that was going through my head was turn and shoot and that’s what I did. I got lucky with the corner shot.”

From there, Ohio was able to rely on the unit that was able to sneak the team into the tournament barely: its defense.

Luckily for Ohio, its offense and Midfield did a great job of possessing the ball and spreading it to teammates.

Kent State wouldn’t get a shot off after Ohio’s second goal until the 79th minute, and it wouldn’t land on target. Sloma made three relatively calm saves in the next six minutes that followed. Strong play from Ohio’s defenders and hustle from Ohio’s attackers to run out the clock meant Kent State had zero shot attempts in the final four minutes. As the last seconds ran off the clock, Ohio’s sideline roared in excitement and sprinted on the field to celebrate Ohio’s first MAC Championship in program history. 

Ohio’s late run included a two-match win streak to make the tournament and three consecutive upsets in the tournament ended in history. When asked about the historic run the team has gone on over the last two weeks, even Ohio Coach Aaron Rodgers had trouble believing what’s happened.

“It’s unbelievable,” Rodgers said. “I mean, these women have fought so hard this whole season and we’ve been up against the wall the last few weeks and the resilience that they’ve shown has been unbelievable.”

For Murray’s efforts, not just against Kent State but also against Bowling Green and Ball State, she was named MAC tournament MVP. Eve Berish, Sloma and Prigge were also named to the All-tournament teams.

In the greatest bit of irony, Ohio actually needed Kent State to defeat Buffalo to even qualify for the MAC tournament on the final day of the regular season, and it did. By the end of the day on Sunday, the Bobcats ousted the Golden Flashes in the biggest match of the season.

“We’ve had last-minute penalty saves, we’ve had last-minute goals, we’ve had last-minute goal line clearances and then going into the last game against Akron, we knew we had to win by multiple goals to have a chance to get that sixth seed and they did it and they never gave up,” Rodgers said on his players.

In some ways, it feels as though Ohio’s season has reached its climax, with the team going out on top as MAC Champions. In another way, it feels as though the excitement has just begun as Ohio will find out who and where it will play in the NCAA tournament tomorrow.

“I’ve been fortunate enough at the other places that I’ve coached to be in the NCAA tournament, and I think it’s an experience that these players will remember. It’s really the pinnacle of playing in collegiate athletics,” Rodgers said.


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