Analyzing Central Michigan's 2019 soccer season, the first under new coach Jeremy Groves
The 2018 season left more questions than answers for the Central Michigan soccer team.
After the campaign ended with a controversial loss to Eastern Michigan, a 7-12 overall record and 5-6 in the Mid-American Conference, CMU missed the MAC Tournament by one game and coach Peter McGahey was fired.
One of the more prevalent questions before the Chippewas is how they will respond to last season's heartbreak. However, the most important question will be the performance of new coach Jeremy Groves.
Groves was an assistant coach at Kentucky last season, but before his stop in Lexington, he was the head coach for Murray State from 2014-17.
Those Racer teams saw immense success, as they won the Ohio Valley Conference regular season three consecutive years from 2015-17, winning the conference tournament in 2015 and 2017. Murray State was undefeated in the OVC during that period.
CMU graduated its three highest scorers last year: Lexi Pelafas, Madison Costner and Shannon Magnan. Pelafas led the way with nine goals and 23 points. Costner scored six, while Magnan put three goals away in her final season.
As for 2019, the Chippewas have 10 freshmen coming onto the roster. That includes midfielder Mariana Marcotti, a product of Osasco, Brazil. She was named the Best Player of the Fast Sabin and selected as one of the top three players in the Fut Cup.
Sophomore Brianna Wallbridge and junior Morgan Britain return as the Chippewa goalkeepers after sharing time last season. Wallbridge should be tabbed as the starter after posting a 3-4 record and allowing just nine goals and making 21 saves.
My prediction: Central Michigan will hover right around the .500 mark this year, ultimately ending the season 9-9 overall with a 5-6 conference record and a spot in the MAC Tournament.
Here's a breakdown of the 18-match slate for the CMU in 2019.
Key nonconference games
The Chippewas will play seven out-of-conference matchups to kick off the season. They have two games against Big Ten Conference opponents and one against a Southeastern Conference team.
Detroit Mercy - Aug. 14
Last season, CMU played in Detroit to a 1-0 Titan victory. The two teams will meet once again in the Motor City to open the season with an exhibition. The Chippewas are 1-1-2 all-time against Detroit Mercy.
Look for the defense to have a strong outing and the offense to find a breakthrough and take the lead in the all-time series over the Titans.
Illinois - Aug. 17
The Chippewas play their home opener against the Fighting Illini at the CMU Soccer Complex. CMU and Illinois have never played each other. The Fighting Illini went 11-8-1 last season.
CMU is going to struggle against Illinois and drop Groves' home debut, 3-1.
Northwestern - Aug. 29
CMU will travel to Evanston, Illinois to take on the Wildcats for the second time in program history. The previous matchup in 2005 was a 1-0 Northwestern victory. This game could be a turning point for CMU early on. The Wildcats boasted a 10-5-4 record and made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, losing to NC State in the opening round.
This is another game where CMU will struggle. Northwestern is a strong program and plays well at home (5-1-1 last season). Meanwhile, last year's Chippewa group struggled on the road (2-8).
Kentucky - Sept. 22
With a 5-14 record in 2018, the Wildcats struggled mightily through the SEC and the rest of their schedule in general. CMU and Kentucky have played one time, a 1-0 victory for Kentucky in 2011. The trip to Lexington, Kentucky is the final road trip before the Chippewas open MAC play.
Despite playing on the road, CMU will be competitive against Kentucky. This game will be a close match until the final stages. Look for the Chippewas to find a breakthrough goal and steal a win from SEC country.
Key MAC games
When CMU heads to Ball State (Sept. 27), it will open an 11-game slate in the conference.
Western Michigan - Oct. 4
The Chippewas and Broncos will play for the 27th time to open the CMU home MAC slate. Last season, freshman midfielder Chesney Wargo scored the winning goal in the 75th minute to secure a 3-2 victory for the Chips. WMU went 14-7 last year and lost in the second round of the MAC Tournament.
After splitting their first two MAC games (Ball State loss, Miami win), the Chippewas will return to their winning ways against the rival Broncos. Home field will make the difference in the match as CMU gains a lead early and holds on to win.
Toledo - Oct. 13
A home match against the Rockets, who went 8-9-2 last year, acts as the mid-point of the MAC schedule. Toledo took the 2-0 victory at home last season over the Chippewas, and this game will prove to be another pivotal point in the season.
Winning this game could send CMU on a surge of confidence heading into a tough stretch to end the campaign. However, the Rockets' ability to score could push them just ahead of the Chippewas again in 2019.
Eastern Michigan - Oct. 31
A second-half comeback that fell just short in controversial fashion kept the Chippewas out of the MAC Tournament. Pelafas was given a red card in the 93rd minute, and the ejection led to the 3-2 Eagle victory in overtime. The final game on the schedule for CMU will be one of the most important and could have major MAC Tournament implications, just as it did a year ago.
Revenge games are often over-used tags for games that could add substance to the "story behind the game." However, revenge might be an interesting storyline behind this game given how it ended last season and how devastating the loss was for CMU.
The Chippewas will play tough in this game, tougher than they might all season long. That tenacity will help them defeat EMU by gaining an early lead and coast to the final whistle.
Overall, this team is young and some games may expose that youth. But the schedule plays out well and the Chippewas could see a lot of success under their first-year head coach.