SOCCER: Ball State falls in first round of MAC tournament to Kent State
Roberts, players said dreadful field conditions favored the Golden Flashes
After getting taken advantage of by Kent State’s aerial attack back on Sept. 28, Ball State coach Craig Roberts said his team was prepared for Kent State’s small field and style of play this time around.
In Sunday’s quarterfinal game of the Mid-American Conference Tournament, however, it was a different type of field condition that proved far more difficult.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a game of soccer,” Roberts said. “In all my professional and collegiate experience as both a coach and player, it was the most unfavorable conditions conducive to playing that I’ve ever seen.”
Dodging puddles of water so deep the ball couldn’t move, Kent State beat Ball State 4-0 to advance onto Friday’s semifinal match against Miami of Ohio.
Prior to the game, Roberts said there were three scenarios on the table: the two teams could move to the football stadium, cancel the game or go ahead and play.
Despite the pleas of the Kidderminster, England native, the latter prevailed and the Cardinals never could regain their footing.
“It was on a totally different level in terms of conditions,” fifth-year senior midfielder Sarah Orisich said. “There was no strategy. We couldn’t play our game. You couldn’t pass to each other. It was whoever got to the ball first — kick it up as far as you can. That was pretty much it, because the ball wasn’t going much further if you were passing it.”
The Cardinals pride themselves on being a pass-heavy, possession-oriented team, but Orisich said the conditions made that type of attack impossible.
It wasn’t the team who showed more skill that came away with the ball, Orisich said. Whoever got their foot on it first had the advantage.
“It was never a situation where there were two passes made,” Roberts said. “It was literally a kick-and-rush game. Can you kick the ball through water? If the ball went out, you were anticipating a restart, which is what their whole game is. They base a lot of their strategy on set plays and restarts, and they’re good at it.”
Kent State scored two goals in each half on those types of set pieces. Sara Henderson scored in the 15th minute and Megan Jackson in the 37th minute. Jaclyn Dutton scored her MAC-leading 15th goal of the season in the 73rd minute followed by Jessacca Gironda less than three minutes later to round out the scoring.
Despite people running on the field sporadically to squeegee water out, Roberts said his team still should have defended Kent State’s strengths better.
Whatever the reason, the loss ends Ball State’s season. After improving its record in each of Roberts’ first two seasons as coach, the Cardinals finished 8-7-5, one win shy of its 2011 win total.
“The seniors have really showed the way on how to produce and what to do for players,” Roberts said. “We’ve really turned the corner. We’ve gone toe-to-toe with every program in the MAC. The girls have really worked hard to get better and be more competitive than we’ve been in years past.”
While none of the seniors made it past the first round of the MAC Tournament, that doesn’t bother Orisich as much when she looks back at the impact made on the program.
“It’s disappointing to end [your career] in such a game where you can’t enjoy just playing soccer,” Orisich said. “Then again, I look at it and see the girls I have next to me. In that sense, it doesn’t matter what the conditions were today. It was so much more worth it.”