Junior midfielder/forward Allison Abbe goes to kick the ball during women's soccer's match against Xavier University. The team tied 1-1 after a double overtime. Kara Berg // DN
First place Ball State soccer travels to second place Kent State in battle of unbeatens
The Cardinals' road trip this weekend will be like none they have had so far this season.
On Oct. 23, Ball State soccer (12-2-2, 7-0-1 MAC) takes on Kent State (10-1-2, 6-0-2 MAC), the only other unbeaten team in the Mid-American Conference. The winner will be the favorite to win the MAC Regular Season Champion with just one game remaining.
The Cardinals also face a 3-11-1 Ohio program (1-7 MAC) Oct. 20. While they cannot overlook the Bobcats, even with an upset loss the matchup with Kent State will determine which team is first in the MAC.
Goals scored per game
Ball State 1.75
Kent State 1.92
Goals allowed per game
Ball State .62
Kent State .69
Last 10 games
Ball State 9-0-1
Kent State 8-0-2
“We’ve always looked ahead and known that [the Golden Flashes] were going to be probably one of our toughest opponents, if not our toughest game we face all year,” junior goalkeeper Alyssa Heintschel said. “But at the same time, they’ve been off in the distance later in the season so we sort of like to take it one team at a time.”
Kent State is one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the MAC, and its 12-game unbeaten streak is the only one longer than Ball State's 10-game streak.
While the Cardinals are tied with Central Michigan for most goals scored (28), the Golden Flashes have scored 25 in three fewer games, leading the conference with 1.92 goals scored per game. Ball State is tied for second with 1.75 goals per game.
Kent State's offense flows through Jenna Hellstrom, who leads MAC with eight assists and is second in the conference with 10 goals.
“Obviously [Hellstrom] is a very good player and she’ll have our respect," Ball State head coach Craig Roberts said. "We need to make sure we’re sharp on defense. She is a player that is an aggressive player, she has four yellow cards so one more and she has to sit a game so she’s going to have to be very sensitive and careful about her approach to the game but I think that we’re prepared, I feel that we know what our assets are.”
The Cardinals, however, boast the best defense in the MAC, leading the conference with 9 shutouts and allowing the fewest goals per game (.62).
But Kent State is not far behind, allowing the second-fewest goals per game (.69) second and ranking fourth with six shutouts. Ball State's offense doesn't have anyone with as many goals as Hellstrom, but nine different Cardinals have scored multiple goals this season. Sophomore Emily Scott leads the team with 5 goals.
“I think it’s going to be a very close game, I think it is going to be a hard-fought game,” Roberts said. “I believe we’ve been creating a lot of restart opportunities and we’ve been creating a lot of in the flow of game options, so I think that we just need to produce on both ends of the coin and we need to produce on our set pieces and we need to produce in the run of play.”
The Cardinals have improved on offense throughout the season, working on finishing, capitalizing on opportunities and set plays in practice.
With one more win and one fewer tie, Ball State will remain in first place with either a win or a tie, though a win would allow the team to keep its advantage over third place Miami and Central Michigan (both 5-1-2 MAC).
Still, the Cardinals play Ohio first on Oct. 20 in Athens, Ohio. The pivotal matchup against Kent State will be Oct. 23 in Kent, Ohio. It's a game every MAC soccer fan will have their eye on, as the winner will be in good position to enter the MAC Tournament as the top seed.