Calvin Wetzel | Sports Editor
The moment that Thunder soccer fans have been waiting for all year has arrived. The NCAA tournament kicks off today, and both Thunder soccer teams will open up postseason play at home after each team earned the CCIW’s automatic bid with a championship-game win over Carthage College on Saturday, Nov. 9.
“It is big, but it is not our ultimate goal,” junior wing Adam Blackman said of his team’s CCIW tournament championship. “I think every guy on the team has their eyes set on the NCAA playoffs. We try to take those one game at a time pushing toward our ultimate goal of a national title.”
The Thunder men (16-3-2) led off a doubleheader of CCIW championship matches on Saturday with a 2-1 overtime victory over Carthage (13-7-1). The matchup featured four of the top five goal scorers in the conference, and three of the four scored or assisted on the night. Wheaton struck first with a goal in the 11th minute. Sophomore striker Stephen Golz (CCIW-leading 15 goals) looped the ball over his marker to himself and took the ball to the right edge of the box, where he played a pass back to Blackman, who is ranked fourth in the CCIW with seven goals. Blackman controlled the ball at the top of the box and fired in the go-ahead score.
Carthage’s Michael Dombroski, ranked second in the CCIW with 14 goals, equalized the score with a header goal that beat senior keeper Derek Babb to the near post in the 21st minute. Taylor Pignataro crossed the ball in from the right corner of the box and found the head of Dombrowski on the left post to tie the game. The 1-1 score would remain through regulation, despite multiple close calls for both sides. The crossbar denied each team a second goal between the 44-minute and 49-minute marks. Carthage’s crossbar shot was the third shot in a 13-second period, but the first two were saved by Babb.
“(Good teams) create their own luck,” men’s Head Coach Mike Giuliano told WETN regarding Carthage’s three shots in 13 seconds. “Good things happen when you play good soccer.”
Playing with the wind in the first extra period, the Thunder controlled the possession and the attack for three minutes and 20 seconds before capping off a thrilling CCIW tournament with a spectacular goal. Senior captain Nathan Jasperse played the ball from the right sideline to Golz at the edge of the attacking third. Golz took a touch and then continued the reversal of field with a pass to junior left back Noah Anthony on the left side. Anthony settled and hit in a dipping 30-yard strike that sent his squad on to the NCAA tournament.
“That’s a credit to those young men out there — they have just battled,” Giuliano said on his squad’s making the NCAA tournament. “They haven’t lost in a month and a half, almost two months now, and they deserve all of it.”
The 2013 Thunder enter the National Tournament with lofty expectations, as they boast a better winning percentage, goals per game average and goals against average than posted in 2012. Blackman credits the success to his team’s will to win despite adversity, and says that this year’s team is ready for postseason play after all returning members of the team made their NCAA Tournament debuts last season.
“I think the experience does help moving along in the playoffs,” Blackman said. “I think this team has a lot of fight, even when things do not go our way initially.”
Last season Wheaton only had one come-from-behind victory, but this year the Thunder have won each of the last three times that they faced a deficit.
The Wheaton women’s team (17-1-2) took the field next, also taking on Carthage (13-5-1) with a CCIW championship on the line. The Lady Reds were the first ones to hold a lead on the Thunder in 2013, taking a 1-0 advantage in the 53rd minute of an Oct. 2 contest, but this one was all Wheaton. Senior captain Leah DeMoss’ goal in the 11th minute gave Wheaton the lead, and two goals in the last six minutes of the first half blew open the score entering the break. Freshman wing Sarah Frey doubled Wheaton’s lead in the 40th minute before junior Annie Hamilton netted a beautiful chip goal 54 seconds before the end of the half for her first goal of the season. Hamilton was playing in her third game back from an injury that sidelined her for 11 games, including the previous nine.
“It’s nice to get players back healthy and ready to go and they’re hungry at this time of year,” women’s Head Coach Pete Felske told WETN following the game.
The goals by Frey and Hamilton in the final five minutes of the half swung the momentum to Wheaton’s side entering the intermission.
“Undoubtedly you want to get a big momentum push right before halftime,” Felske said. “Tonight we had it from everybody.”
The Thunder wasted no time capitalizing on that momentum in the second half, as sophomore forward Kristin Rauh tapped in a loose ball less than four minutes into the half to extend the lead to 4-0. Wheaton was not finished, however. Junior forward Bailey Wysocki broke away from the Carthage back line in the 54th minute and played the ball back to a wide-open DeMoss at the top of the box. DeMoss converted it for her team-high 10th goal of the year to account for the final score of 5-0.
“Leah DeMoss was fantastic tonight and led the charge. It was a great game all around and I’m real proud of the players tonight,” Felske said. “If Leah’s doing what she’s doing like she did tonight, we’re pretty tough to beat.”
The victories earned both the men’s and women’s teams the automatic-qualifying berth to the 2013 NCAA tournament. It is the second consecutive year that both Wheaton soccer teams have won the CCIW tournament to advance to the national tournament, and will be the second straight year that both will host the opening weekend.
The women’s team will get things started on a four-match day at Joe Bean Stadium with an 11 a.m. first-round contest against Webster University (19-1). The winner will move on to the second round to face the winner of the 1:30 p.m. College of St. Benedict (16-2-1) vs. Loras College (17-3-1) game. The men’s side takes on Thomas More College (15-2-2) tonight at 5 p.m. in the third match of the day, while 2012 runner-up Ohio Northern University (18-3) will square off against Kenyon College (14-4-3) at 7:30 p.m. to conclude a soccer-filled Friday. The women’s second round will kick off at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow, with round two of the men’s tournament to follow at 5 p.m.
All the action can be followed via Twitter by following @WETNSports or by tuning into WETN 88.1 FM. The matches will also be streaming live on wetn.org and on Stretch Internet through Wheaton’s athletics webpage.