The first two games of the season for the 2013 Miami University women’s soccer team are in the books.
After suffering a close loss at Illinois State University (ISU) in the season opener 3-2, the RedHawks (1-1-0) rallied to defeat Valparaiso University 1-0 Sunday afternoon in a match that was decided in the 87th minute on a penalty kick by junior midfielder Kelsey Dinges.
The ‘Hawks earned the spot kick when freshman midfielder Rachel Marble threaded a through ball in the box ahead of senior midfielder Kayla Zakrzewski, who was fouled by Valparaio senior goalkeeper Kristen Manski. Dinges then stepped up to the line and pummeled the ball into the back of the goal.
“I stepped up and found the back of the net,” Dinges said.
Head coach Bobby Kramig said he knew before the Sunday bout that it would be a struggle for his team to muster much energy after their loss to ISU just two days prior.
“I knew going in we would be depleted,” Kramig said. “Physically it was a challenge. [It was] very hot out here. It was a classic Sunday game. Sunday games are always difficult [due to the quick turnaround].”
Kramig’s prediction that the ‘Hawks would struggle held true throughout the first half, and he was forced to look towards his reserves to salvage any hope of leaving Indiana with a victory. Kramig used 19 players in the match, an increase from the normal 14 he said he usually uses in a low-scoring affair.
“You could see as the [first] half went on we were struggling with our concentration, which is usually a sign that [the players are tired],” Kramig said. “At halftime I told the team we were going to have to rely on the bench. All of the credit [for the win] goes to the bench.”
Kramig said he wanted to praise the efforts of the younger players on his team who came off of the bench.
“I was really pleased with all of our younger players today,” Kramig said.
The ‘Hawks win Sunday grants them a temporary reprieve from their opening loss Friday to ISU. It is the first time the RedHawks have lost a season opener in three years. In Friday’s match, the ‘Hawks managed to score twice, but their offensive success was mitigated by a porous defense that allowed 18 shots and three goals.
“The first weekend [of the season] is always educational,” Kramig said. “We learned a lot from the Illinois State game. They exposed us.”
Dinges said she agreed with her head coach’s thoughts.
“I don’t think they’ve been our best games,” Dinges said. “They’re good stepping stones for the rest of the season.”
Both ISU and Valparaiso are high quality opponents who presented tough challenges to the RedHawks. ISU won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament last year, while Valparaiso finished third in the Horizon League. But the RedHawks are no slouches themselves; Miami was picked by the league’s coaches in a preseason poll to finish first in the MAC for a second straight year.
Dinges said she believes the team’s play will be completely different by the end of the season, as the young players Kramig singled out for praise will hopefully improve their chemistry with the established veterans on the roster.
“We’re new,” Dinges said. “There’s a lot of different people on this team. We just have to mesh. We’ll get there.”
The RedHawks’ next opportunity to see just how well they “mesh” in a game will be their home opener 5 p.m., Friday against Belmont University (1-1-0).