Field hockey conference play adjusted this season, kicks off Friday
The field hockey team begins its journey for a conference championship when it hosts Miami (Ohio) today in a newly formatted Mid-American Conference schedule and tournament.
The two teams face off at 2 p.m. at the Field Hockey Complex. Central Michigan will also host Iowa at noon on Sunday.
The MAC cut conference play this season from the usual home-and-home with each conference opponent that meant 10 conference games to just five games.
“There’s not a lot of margin for error,” head coach Cristy Freese said. “You don’t get to say ‘we lost this game, so we’ll get them in the next round’. You may not even make it to the next round, because the next round is the MAC Tournament.”
The Chippewas might still travel to Miami’s home field for the MAC Tournament, though they’ll have to place in the top-four in the conference to do so, unlike previous years when every team was invited.
CMU finished last season 5-5 in the MAC, tied for second in the conference. The Redhawks finished 4-6.
This season, the teams received the same amount of votes by the coaches in the conference preseason poll, placing them both at third place.
“Because we’re starting a very similar lineup as last year, certainly, do I feel we have high expectations this year? Yes,” Freese said. “That being said, I think Miami also has high expectations, and I think they’re one of the top teams, too.”
MU, the team’s first conference opponent, is 2-6 with wins over Longwood and Ohio State.
Senior Brittany Burga can tell the difference on the field between a conference game and a non-conference game. She said the jitters are more intense with the higher stakes of conference play.
“I want a ring,” said Burga, one of four seniors making their final MAC Championship run. “But all I can hope is that we play up to our potential, every game, and I think so far we’ve done that.”
MU forward Emily Gruesser is the leading scorer by a wide margin for the Redhawks with five goals — three more than the team’s second-leading scorer.
The Chippewas have a 27-33 all-time record against the Redhawks, though recently, CMU hasn’t fared so well, losing eight of its last ten meetings.
Iowa has an unblemished 7-0 record against CMU all-time.
Yet, the Chippewas have not been rolled over by the No. 13 Hawkeyes in the last two games of the series, losing 1-0 in both.
“Last time we played Iowa, it was a very hard-fought game,” Burga said. “It was frustrating to lose that game, and I think we all remember that. We’re going to be so driven to beat them.”
Iowa has four players who have tallied four goals this season, led by Kelsey Mitchell, who also has two assists.
The Hawkeyes have two losses and have tallied five wins, including a victory over Missouri State, who they defeated 10-0.
They are the third-ranked team CMU has faced this season, though the Chippewas are 1-1 against ranked opponents, thus far.
“Because we’ve done so well this season so far against ranked teams, I think our confidence level is right up there, and we should be able to do very well,” Burga said.
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