Zach Maciaszek, For The Miami Student

The Miami University soccer team (8-6-2) looks to gain some ground in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) standings this weekend as it faces Central Michigan University (6-9-1) at home and Bowling Green State University (0-13-1) on the road.

The RedHawks are 5-1-2 in conference play, placing them atop the East division and tied for second in the entire MAC. The ‘Hawks will be jockeying for position with as many as six teams with a realistic chance of winning the conference this season.

Head coach Bobby Kramig said he has never seen the MAC title race this close this late in the season.

“We’ve never seen it quite this even,” Kramig said. “There are literally six teams in play right now for the top spot with nine points left. A lot of years it’s been a two-horse race, [there’s been] years where I’ve seen three all vying for that top spot. To have this many teams still in contention for a MAC championship … I’ve been here since the beginning and I’ve never seen it.”

Junior defender and team captain Courtney Zanotti said playing this year in the MAC has been an entirely different story from last year, when the ‘Hawks garnered a 10-0-1 record in conference play and ran away with the regular season title.

“Last year, it was helpful that no one expected us to win,” Zanotti said. “We were the underdogs, everyone took us as an easy game, so when we played them it was like a big shock that we were winning. Now that everyone expects us to win and knows were MAC champions their biggest game is against us now. We always get the team’s best performance against us so it makes it a lot more difficult but it’s also a good challenge to test how good we are.”

The Chippewas of Central Michigan is one of the teams that ‘Hawks are fighting with for a shot at the title. CMU is tied for first in the MAC with a 6-2-0 record. The Chippewas are averaging only 0.81 goals per game, but this number is deceiving as they were shutout five times in non-conference play. They give up an average of 1.25 goals per game.

The Chippewas are led by junior forward Laura Gosse who has 11 points on five goals.

Kramig said he expects a tough battle with CMU.

“Certainly they’re a quality opponent,” Kramig said. “Fine team, they know what they’re doing, they’re skillful, they’re organized.”

The Falcons of Bowling Green have yet to record a win. The season statistics are just as lopsided as BG has scored a measly 0.57 goals per game, while surrendering 2.36 goals per game.

A recent positive trend for the RedHawks has been their stalwart defense, which has become a lynchpin of the team. The ‘Hawks have shut out five straight opponents.

Zanotti said the defense is playing at an entirely different level than they were earlier in the season.

“I think the focus is the difference maker,” Zanotti said. “In the beginning [of the season] our focus was mostly on attacking and scoring and we kind of left defending by the wayside a little bit. Now that we’ve refocused and as a team set ourselves on defending it’s starting to come back together.”

The ‘Hawks will need their defense to be at top form once again if they want to gain all six points in the standings that are out there for the taking this weekend.

Kickoff for the home match against CMU is 3:00 p.m. Friday. Game time for the match at BG is 1:00 p.m. Sunday.