MOUNT PLEASANT - Down to the wire was a theme for the 2012 Central Michigan field hockey team.
Not only did the Chippewas (7-12, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) play in 13 matches that were decided by a single goal - including six overtime contests - but their MAC Regular Season Championship aspirations boiled down to the final MAC match of the season against Kent State, which they ultimately lost in double overtime, 1-0.
Six days later the two sides met again, this time in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament with the Golden Flashes again emerging victorious, 3-2, in a back-and-forth affair after the Chippewas scored first and later tied the match, 2-2.
With a defense that was among the best in the conference and an offense that provided timely goals, the 2012 team faced what would be the most difficult schedule the program has seen in years and competed admirably in each match.
“I thought we competed very well and we were in almost every game,” head coach Cristy Freese said. “Our schedule was very difficult, but certainly the thing we need to work on moving forward is scoring more goals. We want to be able to maintain the strength of our defense and still add more offense. That was the difference at the end of the day: we needed that one more goal and we need to be able to finish that.”
Highlighting the season was a 2-1 overtime victory against defending MAC Champion Ohio on October 19. Sophomore back Jordyn Brengosz scored on a penalty corner at the near post on a perfect pass from junior back Skylar VanNatta in overtime to keep CMU in control of its own MAC Championship destiny with just one MAC game remaining at that point.
“We really felt ready for that game,” Freese said. “We had played plenty of overtime games and we had been working on a special corner play for Jordyn that she was very confident in and was able to convert. It was a great win for us to propel us into the rest of the season.”
The schedule featured six matches against ranked teams, highlighted by a 1-0 shutout win over No. 22 Maine. The Chippewas lost close matches against No. 11 Stanford (2-1), No. 20 Michigan State (2-1 OT) and No. 14 Michigan (1-0). The Chippewas outplayed the Spartans and Wolverines throughout much of those matches, but couldn’t break through for the decisive game-winning goals.
The defensive line for the Chippewas was strong throughout the season. Junior back Simone Lazar earned NFHCA second-team All-West Region, first-team All-MAC and MAC All-Tournament honors to lead the Chippewas. VanNatta also earned first-team All-MAC, while Brengosz garnered second-team All-MAC and MAC All-Tournament distinction. Senior goalkeeper Anastasia Netto anchored the defense with second-team All-MAC honors.
Senior co-captain back Emily Girasole also earned MAC Defensive Player of the Week early in the season. Netto earned the honor the following week.
Senior co-captain midfielder Erin Dye, who earned second-team All-MAC honors, led the team with eight goals, giving her 30 for her career and tying her for ninth on the CMU all-time goals scored list. Her 73 total points also place her 10th in CMU history. Junior forward Bailey McKeon was just behind Dye in goals with seven, and led the team in points with 18.
Dye and McKeon scored eight of the Chippewas first 10 goals in a hot start that saw the Chippewas off to a 3-2 start with the win over No. 22 Maine.
Dye, Netto and Girasole were three of the five seniors on the 2012 squad that provided a core for the team. Senior back/midfielder Brittany Burga and forward/midfielder Erica Garwood provided veteran leadership and experience throughout the season, in addition to their strong on-field play.
“Your team always revolves around your senior class, and the way we were able to play this year was thanks in large part to them and their experience level,” Freese said. “The key for this year to how we were able to compete against the type of schedule is because we had so many seniors and juniors.”
Garwood was particularly impactful, co-leading the team in assists with sophomore forward Cayleigh Immelman with five, and also putting in five goals herself.
The Chippewas will certainly miss their five seniors from 2012, but the younger players on the team showed they are capable of stepping up this season into bigger roles.
Though 2011 MAC Freshman of the Year Cayleigh Immelman, with three goals and five assists in 2012, didn’t match her numbers from a year ago, her impact on the game was still significant. Defenses keyed in on the sophomore from South Africa, allowing players on the opposite side of the field to break free for goals.
In addition to McKeon and Immelman on offense and Lazar, VanNatta and Brengosz on defense, the Chippewas will also return sophomore midfielder/forward Mary Alice Moore, who broke through in 2012 for three goals and four assists; and junior Abby Roth, who can make an impact on the game from any position with her combination of hustle and skill.
With the experience gained from this year, the Chippewas are already gearing up for a 2013 MAC Championship run.
“When we met after the season, the players had a bad taste in their mouth because we know we fell short of our goal of a MAC Championship,” Freese said. “We intend to win the MAC Championship next season. Our players are all in on that.”