With a 2013 MAC Regular Season Championship and a bevy of individual accolades, one would think the women’s soccer season was a rousing success. But when you talk to head coach Scott Hall about the season, you can’t help but feel that they believe something is missing.
“You want the fairy tale ending and we didn’t quite get there,” Hall said. “The trophies we want are the MAC West, the MAC overall, and the big one is the tournament, which is hard for me that we didn’t get that one because I really felt like we had the ability to take it.”
Nevertheless, Hall knows that his team had an outstanding season, overcoming a barrage of early injuries and a grueling non-conference schedule to finish with a 12-7-2 record, the program’s highest win total in five years and its first regular season championship since 2003.
“It really was a great year,” Hall said. “It was a lot of fun to see us come back from the early schedule and how it paid off for us in the conference. We were a little nervous after all the injuries, but we knew that we had a good group who could play a high level of soccer, so credit to all them for pushing through. It was a lot of fun to watch them play.”
Eastern’s season was highlighted by a vaunted offense that topped the conference in goals (45), assists (47), and total team points (147) despite losing three midfielders to injury at the beginning of the year.
Leading the attack for the Eagles was junior forward and MAC Offensive Player of the Year Angela Vultaggio, who lead the conference in total points (34) and finished second in goals (13), as well as leading the team with eight assists. But Vultaggio wasn’t alone in the attack, as senior midfielder and co-captian Cara Cutaia tallied 11 goals and seven assists, while junior forward Bianca Rossi pitched six goals and six assists.
“With Cara, Bianca and Angela, that was just a devastating kind of attack, they were really our ‘bread and butter’,” Hall said. “We were really worried about our midfielders after the early injuries, but credit to players like [senior midfielder] Stephanie Clarke and [junior midfielder] Martha Stevens for raising their games another level and filling in the holes that were left.”
Injuries left a question mark in the goalkeeper position as well, as sophomore incumbent starter Jenna O’Dell went down with a season-ending hip injury during the spring. But fellow sophomore Megan McCabe grabbed the reins of the starting goalkeeper position with full force and turned in a valiant season, finishing with 93 saves and 1.06 goals against average. Her stellar play during the course of the season earned her three MAC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“I think we knew, with her work ethic and her athletic ability that she has, that she could be an outstanding goalkeeper,” Hall said of McCabe’s performance. “Once the team found that confidence in her, she just kept getting better and better. It was great to see her develop from that nervous freshman to a confident starter.”
The backline was, if nothing, a consistent unit, as the group of juniors Emily Dzik and Marisa Kozikowski, sophomore Jennifer Bentley, and senior Emily Kowalzyk started nearly every game, with Kowalzyk being the only one to miss time due to injury.
Dzik was the leader of the unit, as she was named the MAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year. The Troy, Mich. native started every game this season and finished second in minutes played, with 1,930. The defender also pitched in on offense, scoring three goals.
The season started off on bumpy ground, as the injury-stricken Eagles faced a gauntlet of four Big Ten Conference opponents, losing all four matches by one goal, including back-to-back overtime loses to the University of Michigan and Ohio State University.
Despite the poor 1-6-1 record, the Eagles stayed confident and showed that the Big Ten losses didn’t deter their motivation, as the team ripped off six straight victories, highlighted by four conference victories and a 4-0 win over Indiana State on Cancer Awareness Day, honoring the life of senior midfielder Allison Kaim’s mother, who passed away of ovarian cancer in 2011.
Eastern would lose its first two MAC conference games of the year in consecutive fashion, first to Ball State on Oct. 11, then to Miami University on Oct. 13, but the Eagles responded by closing the regular season with a 4-0-1 record, highlighted by an emotional final weekend.
On Oct. 27, EMU sent its senior class out on top with a 4-1 drubbing of the Akron Zips on Senior Day at Scicluna Field, before heading to Western Michigan on Halloween and beating the Broncos in a 2-1 come-from-behind victory to clinch the regular season MAC Championship.
EMU went into the MAC tournament as the number one seed and handled the Ohio Bobcats with a 3-0 victory in the opening round. But Eastern faced a redemption-craved Western Michigan team in the second round and this time, were bested by the Broncos 1-0, ending their season.
With seniors Cutaia, Clarke, Kowalzyk, Kaim, and midfielder Megan Pedro leaving, the Eagles will bring back 21 players from this years team, but gone will be the leadership and memories that this senior class brought.
“They were all really great leaders,” Vultaggio said of the senior class. “They knew the right things to say at the right times and they weren’t just your friends on the field, but off the field as well.
“The five of them really worked to make our whole team feel like a family,” Dzik added. “I think they were a huge part of our success this year and we [the junior class] will have some pretty big shoes to fill next year.”
For seniors, it is time to reflect on the past four years, but for the returning players and coaching staff, the time for reflection is small.
“I don’t know if has really sunken in yet,” Hall reflected. “The mindset of the coaching staff is now to get right back to work and figure out how to get this team back to where we were and how do we change or fortunes when we get there, but this really was a special year.”