MAC still to present challenges for WVU
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 07:09
The West Virginia men’s soccer team started its first year of conference play in the Mid-American Conference successfully by dominating Florida Atlantic University in a 4-0 victory Sunday afternoon at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
"It was our first ever MAC game and we were excited," said senior defender Eric Schoenle.
The Mountaineers (5-2-1, 1-0) also continued their successful inaugural season overall in the MAC after exiting the Big East Conference last year.
The change in conference was more a result of the Mountaineers’ football team migrating to the Big 12 Conference in a monumental offseason move, fiscally and logistically, and because the Big 12 doesn’t offer a division for men’s soccer, the Mountaineers were forced to seek an alternative conference at the last minute, and they eventually landed in the MAC.
It was initially seen as step back by some of the Mountaineers’ supporters, but West Virginia head coach Marlon LeBlanc has said repeatedly that regardless of the team’s conference home heading forward, it won’t affect his team’s level of play or the way it prepares for each opponent.
Although the MAC may feature some less notorious opponents than the Big East had in recent years, there is definitely talent within the conference.
"I think I’m going to save my judgment for later on," LeBlanc said, following the Mountaineer’s blowout win in their first conference game. "But I know that after Iona, Western Michigan is sitting at 7-2 right now, and I’ve watched them play as well, and they’re a dangerous team. Very good, very organized and it will be a difficult task looking forward."
The Broncos of Western Michigan actually have the best overall winning percentage of any team in the conference at 7-2, but have yet to play a conference game. They’ll host the Mountaineers in the team’s next conference appearance Saturday.
The true leader of the conference is unquestionably Akron, though. The Mountaineers’ players and LeBlanc have consistently mentioned the Zips in the same regard as any of the best teams in the entire country and have painted their Oct. 20 match in Akron against the Zips as easily one of the biggest matches of the season. If the Mountaineers can topple the Zips on the road, it could definitely help seal an NCAA tournament selection for WVU down the stretch.
Akron shut out conference opponent Bowling Green 2-0 in the only other MAC men’s soccer match of the season so far. The Zips are 5-1-2 and ranked No. 10 in the NSCAA coaches’ poll, with their only loss coming against No. 4 Notre Dame in South Bend.
After the matchup with Iona Wednesday night, six of the Mountaineers’ eight remaining matches will be against conference opponents, leading up to the critical MAC tournament in the beginning of November.
It’s vital that the Mountaineers finish no worse than second in the conference if they hope to have any chance of having a high enough RPI to be selected for the NCAA tournament.
West Virginia undoubtedly has the talent to compete with the best teams in the country, but they may have to overcome the collective weakness of their conference to make it into the tournament in the first place; Saturday’s 4-0 drubbing of F.A.U. in the first conference matchup of the year was a great start.
But LeBlanc said, despite WVU’s impressive shutout victory start to play in the MAC, his team will ultimately have to continue to improve as it progresses through conference play.
"I’ve got to continue to push them, because we’ve got a long way to go," LeBlanc said. "It’s only been one game so far. That’s a team that I think we probably should be able to play well against, but we gave them a little bit too much.
"I thought we took the foot off the gas a little bit. We’re going to have to be better as we go on;
more teams are going to have more information on us."