Toledo Announces 2012 Schedule; Four Matches vs. 2011 NCAA Championship Teams Highlight Slate
"We want to compete against the best teams and coaches in the country, and I feel we will do just that this fall," two-time reigning Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year Brad Evans said. "I think everybody on our team, from the players to the coaches, are excited about what should be a fun schedule."
The two-time defending MAC regular-season champions will commence their fall campaign at Big Ten member Purdue on Aug. 17. The Rockets and the Boilermakers have squared off in each of the last two season openers with the road team winning each time. UT claimed a 1-0 overtime triumph in West Lafayette, IN two years ago, before Purdue rebounded with a 1-0 victory at Scott Park last fall. PU went 7-11-2 in 2011, including 4-6-1 in the Big Ten.
"We get an opportunity to face a very good Purdue team for a third straight year in our opener," Evans said. "Their head coach (Rob Klatte) is a good friend. He does a great job with their program, and they are always well organized. Playing Purdue in their recently updated facility is a great way to start the season."
Two days after the Purdue match, Toledo will host Atlantic Sun member Belmont in its home opener on Aug. 19. The Bruins are coming off an 8-8-1 overall ledger last fall, 5-3-1 in the conference. The Rockets sported a 9-2-2 mark at Scott Park in 2011 and hold an impressive 56-11-7 ledger at home since the start of the 2005 campaign.
Toledo will then return to the road for matches against IPFW (Aug. 24) and the Longhorns (Aug. 26). The Mastodons sported a 7-9-1 overall record last fall, 4-4-1 in the Summit League, while Texas finished 11-9-1 overall and 3-4-1 in the Big 12. The Longhorns lost to South Carolina, 1-0, in the first round of the NCAA Championship. The Rockets will be making their second trip in as many years to the Lone Star State. Last fall, Toledo participated in the Red Raider Classic in Lubbock.
"IPFW is an improving team and their program is getting better and better," Evans said. "They continue to recruit quality players and playing at their place on a Friday night, I don't think is something we should take lightly."
Added Evans, "We are also excited about playing Texas for a lot of different reasons. They have a new coach this fall, and I expect them to be an energetic group. It will definitely be exciting to play a nationally recognized team."
The Midnight Blue & Gold will host Loyola (IL) on Aug. 31 before playing a pair of matches at the University of Louisville on Sept. 7 and 9. Toledo is slated to tangle with Samford in its first contest in the Bluegrass State, before squaring off with the host Cardinals for a third consecutive season.
The Ramblers went 6-10-3 overall, 2-4-2 in the Horizon League last fall.
The Bulldogs are coming off an outstanding 2011 campaign that saw them finish 14-6-2 overall and 9-0-2 in the Southern Conference, winning the league tournament. They advanced to the NCAA Championships, suffering an opening-round loss to nationally ranked Florida State.
"Samford has been good for quite a while," Evans said. "Their program has a culture of winning. That is going to be a fun match."
The Cardinals also experienced an outstanding 2011 season, posting a 14-7-3 overall mark and a 7-1-2 ledger in the Big East. They advanced to their conference tourney finals and won their first two matches in the NCAA Championships.
"Louisville is another talented team," Evans said. "They have a great envirornment there, and they are always good hosts."
The Rockets will then wrap up their challenging non-league competition against Illinois State on Sept. 16 at home. The Redbirds finished 13-6-0 overall and 5-1-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference in 2011, capturing the league tourney and playing in the NCAA Championships.
"Illinois State is loaded with talent, especially in the attack," Evans said. "This will be yet another test for us as we prepare for the MAC season."
The 11-match league slate begins one week later with a road contest at two-time reigning MAC Tournament finalist Western Michigan (Sept. 21). This fall will mark the fourth time in the last five seasons that Toledo will open league competition away from Scott Park. The Rockets have also squared off against the Broncos in the league opener on six occasions in the last seven seasons.
"Conference play is always fun," Evans said. "Our teams gets geared up for those 11 matches. The difference between the teams in the league is so small. It really comes down to how you play, how you prepare and how you remain focused over those 11 matches."
Following the short trip to Kalamazoo, UT will host Eastern Michigan two days later (Sept. 23).
Toledo will then travel to Buffalo (Sept. 28) and Akron (Sept. 30), before starting a season-long, four-match homestand that includes Central Michigan (Oct. 5), arch-rival Bowling Green (Oct. 7), Ball State (Oct. 12) and Miami (Oct. 14).
Following the homestand, UT will venture to Ohio (Oct. 19) and Kent State (Oct. 21), before wrapping up the MAC regular season against Northern Illinois (Oct. 25) at home.
The 2012 MAC Tournament begins Sunday, Oct. 28 with quarterfinal-round action at the sites of the four highest-seeded teams. The four survivors from that round will head to the site of the highest remaining seed for the semifinals (Nov. 2) and championship contest (Nov. 4), which the Rockets have hosted four of the last six seasons. The winner of the 16th-annual post-season event receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.
Evans' squad is expected to return 18 letterwinners from a season ago, when they sported a 14-7-2 overall mark, including a 9-1-1 league ledger. The Rockets successfully defended their MAC regular-season championship and captured a league-record fourth tournament title.
MAC Offensive Player of the Year junior Rachel MacLeod is the leading returning scorer with 31 points (11 goals, nine assists), followed by junior Nicole Gyurgyik with 24 points (10 goals, four assists).
MacLeod led the league in total points, tallies and match-winning scores (6), as well as tied for first in helpers. Her point total was the second-most in a single campaign in UT annals, while goals and assists tied for third and shots (64) were tied for fourth.
Gyurgyik ranked second in the league in goals, third in total points and seventh in shots (52).
On the defensive side of the ball, first-team all-conference selection Natalia Gaitàn and senior Rachael Kravitz highlight the returnees. Against MAC competition, UT surrendered only seven scores with nine blankings in 14 contests.
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