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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mid-American Conference Forecast

A member of the "group of five" football conferences, the MAC is made up of a dozen teams, nine of whom are situated in the states of Ohio and Michigan. The remaining three schools are located in Illinois; Indiana; and New York. All twelve of the conference's member schools sponsor varsity softball, as is the case with seven of the conference's twelve women's sports.

The conference is split into two divisions, East and West. The top eight teams in either division, based on winning percentage, advance to the conference tournament. The tournament operates on a double-elimination format, and there are no "byes". The conference tournament is held every year at Firestone Stadium in Akron, the home of the NPF's Akron Racers.

Kent State's Holly Speers
Photo: Kent State Athletics
Team that could improve and surprise: Kent State Golden Flashes
     (Despite earning the conference's top seed for the tournament, the Golden Flashes put together a 2-2 record in the tournament and failed to advance past the semifinal round of games. Heading into his first full season as head coach, sans the interim designation, Eric Oakley has a stellar senior class in place and proved his squad can beat Power Five and top-peer teams; some of the Golden Flashes' thirty-seven victories in 2016 came against Michigan State; USC-Upstate; Louisville; North Dakota State; Northwestern; and Ohio State. If Oakley's squad can get the job done in the conference postseason, don't expect them to be pushovers come NCAA tournament time.)

Team that could decline and disappoint: Western Michigan Broncos
     (The Broncos lost three all-conference first-teamers after the 2016 season, including workhorse hurler Allyson Kus who amassed a 2.54 ERA, sixteen wins, and 140 strikeouts over nearly 200 innings of work. Middle infielders Sabrina Gamboa and Melissa Palmer depart, with their .355 and .361 batting averages, respectively. In a crowded MAC conference race, the Broncos will almost certainly have to go through, at the very least, a rebuilding phase if they are to contend in the conference race and postseason.)

Player of the Year: Maddy Grimm, Kent State
Pitcher of the Year: Savannah Jo Dorsey, Ohio
Coach of the Year: Eric Oakley, Kent State

Conference Champs: Kent State Golden Flashes
Top WCWS Contender: Kent State Golden Flashes

Players to Watch:
Holly Speers, Kent State – Speers made national headlines and earned her spot atop a Division 1 all-time record when she hit five home runs in five consecutive at-bats early last season. In less than a wbeek's time, she doubled her previous career total of longballs and went on to post a season's stat line of .312/12/32. Opposing pitchers have learned too well what Maddy Grimm can do with one swing of the bat, but Speers' presence gives Oakley another powerful bat in the lineup and gives opposing pitch-callers headaches.

Savannah Jo Dorsey, Ohio – After a shortened 2015 season, Dorsey came back with a vengeance in 2016 for her redshirt junior season. She put together an ERA of 1.72 in nearly 250 innings of work, leading the nation with 336 strikeouts. She's been one of the finest pitchers in the nation for years running, and that shouldn't change in her redshirt senior year. All-American honors, another Pitcher of the Year award, and a mid-to-high selection in the NPF draft are not out of the realm of possibility - and even probability - for Dorsey.

Allison Curtis, Central Michigan – An all-conference first-team selection as a freshman in 2016, Curtis led her program with a .336 batting average. With CarolAnn Sexauer, she will have to mature swiftly if she is to pace her squad and lead them to victories. She has potential and is certainly one worth keeping an eye on.

Biggest Questions:
*Can Kent State get the job done when it matters the most, in the postseason?

Top Seniors:
P – Savannah Jo Dorsey, Ohio; Ronnie Ladines, Kent State
C – Alyssa Nicholas, Akron
IF – Maddy Grimm, Kent State; Chandler Rice, Toledo; Kelsea Cichocki, Western Michigan; Kali Kossakowski, Northern Illinois
UT/DP – Savanna Norcio, Buffalo

Conference Projection:
1. Kent State Golden Flashes
2. Ohio Bobcats
3. Miami Redhawks
4. Northern Illinois Huskies
5. Toledo Rockets
6. Central Michigan Chippewas
7. Akron Zips
8. Ball State Cardinals
Others: Western Michigan Broncos; Bowling Green Falcons; Eastern Michigan Eagles; Buffalo Bulls

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