OXFORD, Ohio - Sophomore Hailey Pleshakov scored in the second half to break a 1-1 tie and lift the Miami University women's soccer team to the 2012 Mid-American Conference Tournament championship as her goal gave the RedHawks a 2-1 win over Central Michigan Sunday in the tournament final at Miami Soccer Field.
Tournament host and top-seeded Miami (19-2-1, 10-0-1 MAC), who also won the MAC regular-season crown this year, earned its fourth MAC Tournament title in program history. Miami last won the MAC Tournament in 2002, when the 'Hawks also won their only other MAC regular-season title, while the other tournament championships were in 2000 and 2001.
"I thought it was a good game today. I thought it was about the game we were expecting," head coach Bobby Kramig said. "Central is an awfully good team. They're just tremendously well-organized, well-coached and disciplined. They play hard and have a competitive mentality. We knew we were going to have to try and meet that. I think our kids did that. They brought the right mind set to the game and hung tough at the end."
With the victory over No. 2 seed Central Michigan (15-6-1, 9-2-0 MAC), Miami automatically qualifies for the NCAA Tournament, which begins next weekend. The NCAA women's soccer selection show will take place on Monday, Nov. 5 at 4:30 p.m., which is when the RedHawks will learn who they face in the first round and where they are headed. The selection show will be streamed live on NCAA.com while Miami will hold a watch party in the multi-purpose room of the Gross Student-Athlete Development Center. The watch party is open to the public.
As the RedHawks did in each of the first two games of the MAC Tournament, Miami struck quickly, this time doing so just 4:17 into the match. After scoring in the sixth minute in the quarterfinals against Ohio and in the eighth minute in Friday's semifinal win over Kent State, MAC Freshman of the Year Haley Walter (Cincinnati, Ohio) found the back of the net in the fifth minute for her ninth goal of the year.
Senior captain Jess Kodiak (Naperville, Ill.) gathered the ball near midfield and played a long through ball toward the right flank. Walter used her speed to get by the CMU defender and slid to kick the ball, just beating CMU keeper Stefanie Turner, who charged to the ball, as Walter poked it home from the right side of the penalty box for a 1-0 lead. Kodiak picked up her single-season school-record 11th assist on the play, topping teammate Kayla Zakrzewski (London, Ont.), who first broke the record last week.
The Chippewas pulled even in the 32nd minute, however, as Danielle Rotheram scored off a cross at the far post. Kaely Schlosser played a long ball from just inside midfield on the left wing toward goal and Miami redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Allison Norenberg (Palatine, Ill.) came out to break up the cross but missed, allowing Rotheram an easy finish at the back post.
The match went into halftime level at 1-1 with CMU holding a 5-3 edge in shots while earning both corner kicks in the half. CMU came out firing in the second half, putting three shots on goal in the first 10 minutes, but Norenberg was up to the task each time.
Then, in the 59th minute, the 'Hawks broke through with the game-winning goal. Walter started the sequence with a great hustle play to save the ball from crossing the endline despite a CMU defender boxing her out. She tapped it back into the field of play where junior Katy Dolesh (Chardon, Ohio) picked up the ball and sent a cross into the box. Pleshakov (Brighton, Mich.), who had just one goal all season entering Sunday, then finished the ball with a strong header into the corner of the cage for a 2-1 Miami lead, as the home-team crowd erupted.
"She hates heading the ball, she's honestly not very good at it and she'll be the first to tell you that. So for her to score that goal, at that time, in that game is just absolutely remarkable," Kramig said. "What does it say about Hailey? She hasn't gotten many opportunities to play this year, so to come in and rise to the occasion like that, what a testament to her character."
From there, Miami's defense led the way as CMU managed just one shot over the final 30 minutes of play and were unable to put any shots on target. The RedHawks kept the ball down in the offensive end the final few minutes to close out the MAC Tournament championship as the team rushed the field when the final horn sounded.
"I know our attack has gotten a lot of press, publicity and recognition, but the fact of the matter is, when we've needed them, the defense has been there, and certainly that was the case today," Kramig said. "The way we killed off the game at the end - those last 10 to 15 minutes - that was professionally done. I was really impressed with how we handled ourselves."
CMU actually outshot Miami, 9-7, for the match, but the 'Hawks earned three corner kicks in the second stanza and Norenberg totaled four saves, including three in the final 45 minutes, to help Miami get the win. Turner made two stops in the loss for the Chippewas.
Kodiak and Walter each were named to the All-MAC Tournament Team from Miami, as was Zakrzewski and sophomore Courtney Zanotti (North Royalton, Ohio), who anchored a RedHawk defense that allowed just two goals in three tournament games.
"This whole season has been a dream come true," said Kodiak, the 2012 MAC Offensive Player of the Year. "Being here freshman year and losing in the (MAC) championship to Central (Michigan) and then getting a second chance in my four years and to be able to win it, it's just been amazing. We have such a young team so to be able to grow and mature through this season has been awesome."
Miami's 19 wins tie the school record for wins, also achieved in 2002, the last time the RedHawks made the NCAA Tournament. Miami will carry a school-record 15-game unbeaten streak into the NCAA Tournament.
All-MAC Tournament Team
Estee Outcalt, Central Michigan
Danielle Rotheram, Central Michigan
Katie Slaughter, Central Michigan
Sara Henderson, Kent State
Hannah Newhouse, Kent State
Kayla Zakrzewski, Miami
Haley Walter, Miami
Courtney Zanotti, Miami
Jess Kodiak, Miami
Natalia Gaitan, Toledo
Kristen Mattei, Toledo