BY ALEX THOMAS | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
- Ball State won the MAC Regular Season Championship with a record of 14-3-2.
- The No. 1 seed Cardinals face the No. 8 seed Northern Illinois at 1 p.m. Sunday.
- You can watch Sunday’s match on ESPN3 with Connor Onion, Mick Tidrow and Alex Thomas
- Follow @bsusportslink on social media for gameday coverage and access
- A complete MAC Tournament bracket is available here.
For the second time in Mid-American Conference history, Ball State won back-to-back regular season championships Thursday with a 2-0 win over Miami (OH).
The only other team to win back-to-back titles? The 2006-07 Cardinals.
Just a year ago, after celebrating their first MAC regular season championship in seven years, the Cardinals were stunned in penalty kicks by No. 8 seed Akron, 4-3, in the first round.
When No. 1 Ball State hosts this year’s No. 8 seed Northern Illinois Sunday, they are hoping for a very different outcome — a MAC Tournament Championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament. However, it won’t be an easy road.
Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming MAC Tournament.
Ball State #1
The Cardinals enter as the obvious favorite after another remarkable season under Craig Roberts. The stout defense pushed Ball State to a school record 10-match unbeaten streak through the season.
The depth of scorers and solid goalkeeping, mixed with the defense is a recipe for disaster for opponents.
Plus, the only team to defeat Ball State in the MAC, Ohio, did not make the tournament, so look for the Cardinals to get over the hump this year and win it all.
Kent State #2
The biggest stepping stone in Ball State’s path to the title will be the Kent State Golden Flashes.
Although it lost 2-1 to the Cardinals in double overtime this year, Kent State has the weapons to make a championship run.
The Flashes have a high powered offense, ranking top three in shots per game (13.91) and number one in goals (23). Also, they have allowed only seven goals in MAC play, second only to Ball State. A rematch from October 23 in the title game with the Cardinals could be in store for the Flashes.
Central Michigan #3
The Chippewas have one of the most lethal offensive weapons in the MAC in Alexis Pelafas (see below), but allow just over one goal per game which has hurt them down the stretch.
Central Michigan tied both Kent State and Ball State this season which could give them the confidence they need to make a run in the tournament.
If the Chippewas can play solid defense, they know they have the offensive fire power to compete with anyone they may face.
Western Michigan #4
The Broncos are another potential sleeper team as they enter the tournament on a three-match winning streak, making them the hottest team in the MAC right now.
Western Michigan scores nearly two goals a game, but defense has been their achilles heel, ranking 10th in the MAC in goals allowed.
Similar to Central Michigan, if the Broncos can put together a nice game or two defensively, they could be in a position to challenge Ball State in the semifinal.
Potential Bracket Buster
The Bulls were inconsistent throughout MAC play, but roll out the number three defense in the MAC, only allowing eight goals.
Buffalo is a streaky team, but enter the tournament with three straight ties and win. One of those ties came against Central Michigan, their opponent in the first round.
Out of all the match-ups, this appears the be the best chance of a lower seed winning, so watch out for the Bulls.
Players to Watch
Lorina White (Ball State)
The reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year, plays with great pace and strength which she uses to turn defense into offense. White tallied three goals and one assist on the season, but that doesn’t even start to define her contribution to this team.
Her frequent runs from deep within her own half has led to many great offensive opportunities for her teammates, making her incredibly entertaining to watch.
Alexis Pelafas (Central Michigan)
The No. 2 goalscorer in the Mid-American Conference who leads the MAC in shots per
game with nearly six is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Pelafas is just a sophomore and has 15 goals on the season, with six coming in MAC play. She could be the difference maker for the Chippewas as they look to go deep into the tournament.
Jenna Hellstrom (Kent State)
As much of a sight to see as Pelafas is, Jenna Hellstrom is another notch up. She leads the conference in goals, points and assists.
A potential MAC Player of the Year, Pelafas is the senior leader on the top offensive team in the conference and could be the reason the Golden Flashes get past the quarterfinals for the first time since 2012.
More MAC Tournament Championship information is available at www.mac-sports.com.