As the fall sports season winds down, much is riding on this weekend for Mount Union's men's and women's soccer, volleyball and men's and women's cross country teams.
First-year head coach Kelley Clark has led the women's soccer team (8-8-2, 3-5-0 OAC) to its best season since 2003, but the Purple Raiders will likely need a win this weekend in order to qualify for the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament. That win will not come easily, as they go on the road to take on Otterbein. The Cardinals (9-5-2, 6-1-1 OAC) currently sit in second place in the OAC and participated in the Division III Final Four a year ago.
Senior Alyssa Flitcraft (Alliance/Marlington) and junior Kylee Kolesar (Mentor/Mentor) have been the catalysts of an offense that has scored the second-most goals in the OAC. Flitcraft and Kolesar rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in the OAC in points, while Flitcraft in second in goals.
The Purple Raiders currently sit in a four-way tie with Baldwin-Wallace, Heidelberg, and Wilmington for fifth place in the conference. Only six schools qualify for the OAC Tournament, meaning two teams will be left out. Heidelberg and Wilmington face each other in what is likely an elimination match. There are several scenarios that could play out on Saturday, but a win would likely allow the team to determine its own fate.
The men's soccer team (8-7-2, 3-3-2 OAC) controls its own destiny as they enter the weekend fifth in the OAC standings. They also play on the road at Otterbein (5-9-2, 3-5 OAC) and a win would likely result in hosting a first round match for the second consecutive season. This is also a pivotal match for Otterbein, as the Cardinals would leap the Raiders in the standings with a win.
Senior Kevin Cindric (Willowick/Eastlake North) seems determined not to let his final season end just yet. Cindric scored a pair of goals in a 2-0 win over Muskingum on Tuesday, which was essentially a must-win match for the Raiders.
A win or tie against Otterbein puts the Raiders into the field of six. Even with a loss to Otterbein, a win by second place John Carroll over Capital still clinches a spot in the tournament.
It will be Senior Day for the volleyball team (21-6, 7-1 OAC) when they host Otterbein (24-4, 7-1 OAC) Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. Senior Julie Radigan (Olmsted Falls/Olmsted Falls) will play in the final regular season home match of her successful collegiate career. A member of Mount Union's only team to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, Radigan is a two-time All-OAC and Academic All-OAC selection and will end her career with the second-most assists in program history. The winner will be the No. 2 seed in the OAC Tournament.
While the Raiders have clinched a first round home match with the semi-finals and finals likely being hosted by Heidelberg, much rides on this match for both squads. Bragging rights will be on the line as the Raiders won a non-conference match on a neutral court earlier in the season while Otterbein picked up a win on Senior Day in Alliance last year. There appears to be parity among the teams who will be seeded fourth through sixth in the OAC Tournament, so the No. 2 seed would appear to have a preferable first round matchup.
The match has ramifications beyond just the OAC Tournament. Otterbein is ranked fourth in the NCAA Great Lakes Region while Mount Union is ranked sixth. With these squads seeming to be destined for a third meeting next week, a sweep over the other could aid in earning an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
In-region winning percentage is a factor in these rankings, so a pair of wins would obviously be better than a split. Also, one of the factors when selecting at-large teams is wins against regionally-ranked teams. With both teams currently ranked, a pair of wins over a regionally-ranked opponent are up for grabs.
While the soccer and volleyball teams look toward next week's OAC Tournament, the men's and women's cross country teams will compete in the OAC Championships this weekend. The Purple Raiders are set to race at Hawthorne Hill Golf Course in Lima, Ohio Saturday morning.
The men's team returns three scorers from last year's team that won the OAC title for a record 25th time. Senior Erik Reed (East Liverpool/East Liverpool) finished sixth, senior Tim Kelly (Lakewood/Lakewood) finished 20th, and junior Matt Miller (Lakewood/Lakewood) finished 25th. Sophomores Joshua Clemence (Akron/Firestone) and Nate Grimm (Lisbon/Leetonia) and freshman Andrew Nelson (Louisville/Louisville) have had strong showings so far this season. The men look to extend their streak of top three finishes in the OAC to eleven seasons.
On the women's side, the Purple Raiders look to win their first OAC title since 2004. They have finished in the top ten in all but one race this year, including a first place finish at the Rick Sayre Invitational to open the season. Freshman Hayley Buzulencia (Warren/Howland) won that race and has been the team's not finisher three times while sophomore Caitlin Goggin (Manuta/Crestwood) was their top finisher at the All-Ohio Championships. Sophomore Jenna Balazs (Tallmadge/Tallmadge) and freshmen Brooke Benner (Orrville/Orrville), Jessie Iafalice (Mentor/Mentor), and Jana Sleutz (Cuyahoga Falls/Woodridge) have also been key scorers for the Purple Raiders.
Both the men's and women's cross country teams will compete at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet held at Oberlin in two weeks.