Though the individual MAC Women's Soccer postseason awards, which should be announced tomorrow, won't be a clean sweep for Buffalo or any school as they were in 2014, I think for the most part they're still predictable.
Offensive Player of the Year? Kent State's Jenna Hellstrom, she of 11 goals and 12 assists.
Defensive Player of the Year? Take your pick from Ball State's centerbacks, who allowed only 62 shots on goal over 19 games all season
Coach of the Year? Kent State's two-win improvement may not look like much, but Rob Marinaro's team took a big step forward into the upper tier of the conference once again. In addition to Hellstrom, sophomore Doni Capehart led the conference with 12 goals. You could also make an argument for Ball State's Craig Roberts, who cleaned the MAC's clock this year only to see his offense fail him late in the season.
Freshman of the Year, though, does not have a Laura Dougall-esque titan heads and shoulders above everyone else. Only a few rookies are among the conference leaders in any stats. I'm of course biased by my own fandom and which team I see the most of, but why not Buffalo's Bri Shingary, who's been as consistent as anyone in the MAC and perhaps the conference's most lethal offensive threat from the defensive backline (Certainly, she's the MAC's best on corner deliveries).
First, to highlight the other two top contenders:
Kristin Nason, Eastern Michigan. Nason had seven goals on the season, good for seventh in the conference. She did not register an assist, and four of her goals came in consecutive early-September games against Illinois State (6-10-2 on the season) and UIC (5-12-2). She had just one shot, which was blocked, against Buffalo.
Erica Hubert, Bowling Green. She's a redshirt freshman, but that does count (and so we should also start talking about Carissima Cutrona). Hubert did score eight goals (including the late game-winner on Buffalo) and an assist while leading the Falcons in shots. Offensively, she was undoubtedly the conference's most impressive freshman.
There are a few freshman goalies this season, but none have been particularly outstanding and only one - Ashleah McDonald of Kent - played for a team in the conference's upper tier, unlike the trio of Dougall, Ball State's Alyssa Heintschel, and WMU's Stephanie Heber last season.
Consider Shingary. Starting with the offensive side of things, where the other contenders' strengths lie, her four assists are the second-most by a freshman and don't include her excellent ball to Nicole Gerritz that turned into a penalty kick against Northern Illinois.
Her two goals on the season won't turn anyone's heads, but they may be Buffalo's two biggest goals of the year: a double-overtime game-winner at Miami that proved massive in MAC Tournament seeding, and the go-ahead goal against CMU in Sunday's MAC Quarterfinal that proved critical when the Chippewas later tied the game.
The raw numbers don't match Hubert and Nason, and are the biggest reason I think Hubert (or Nason if Hubert is ineligible as a redshirt-freshman) will win the award, but Shingary is putting them up from the back of the formation. Through the Film Study series, which I only picked up a little more than halfway through the season, we've reviewed 11 UB goals, and Shingary has a hand in seven, usually a few seconds and passes before the eventual shot. In Buffalo's last home game, the freshman started the first goal with a pass to Moira Petrie and of course scored the second. The match before she assisted on the game winner against Akron.
That says nothing of Shingary's work and effectiveness on the back line, where she has flat-out impressed from Day One. She's played in and started each of Buffalo's 20 games this season, one of just four freshmen across the conference who can say that - and BG's Alexis Fricke and Morgan Abbitt, and CMU's Mary Carlson all played on backlines that gave up far more goals - and has played in all but 52 minutes over the year, and all but eight against MAC opponents, only stepping out in the rout of Northern Illinois.
She's provided a critical role in the Buffalo defense which needed to retool in the offseason following the loss of Sophie Therien and Courtney Mann, anchoring one side to give Coach Burke flexibility with his more experienced players. She's been fearless in that position from the outset, playing bigger than her size and experience even in the season-openers in Philly and not backing down against a World Cup opponent in West Virginia's Ashley Lawrence.
It's my guess that this award goes to Hubert, but it is voted on by the coaches, and that's a huge boost to Shingary's chances. Unlike Hubert and Nason, Brianna plays for a team that's given everyone in the conference problems and has been a consistently active force in UB's defense for the entire season. There's no doubt in my mind that every MAC coach has noticed the freshman fullback at least handful of times in their game with the Bulls, while Hubert was the best option on a team that only won three games.
All four individual awards, as well as First and Second Team and Freshman All-MAC selections, should be announced tomorrow.