Assistant Sports Editor
For the first time since 2009, Wheaton men’s soccer is headed back to the Division III National Tournament. Wheaton (15-3-3) defeated conference rival North Park University (12-2-5) on Saturday night, Nov. 3, in the CCIW championship game to clinch the automatic berth into the tournament. It officially goes in the books as a 1-1 tie, but after winning the shootout 4-1, the Thunder players and fans were the ones celebrating at Joe Bean Stadium while the Vikings’ faithful watched in silence.
Saturday night drew the largest crowd Joe Bean Stadium had seen in over two years, with over 1700 fans in attendance. They were already lining up at the gate as early as 5:15 p.m., nearly two hours before kickoff, awaiting what promised to be a thrilling contest.
Thrilling as it was, 110 minutes didn’t allow either team to emerge with a clear victory. Earlier in the season the teams battled their way to a 3-3 draw, and this time around the score was 1-1 at the end of the second overtime. According to junior defender Kevin Skinker, the fans of both sides played a big role in the atmosphere and anticipation of the game.
“We were all extremely pumped up for this game because we knew that a lot of fans of both sides would be there and be crazy and it is always a lot of fun playing in front of such wild fans,” Skinker said.
Senior keeper Ryan Seager agreed. “Our fans made that a special experience,” he said.
North Park took the lead first with a goal in the 40th minute. Robin Hals hit a volley from 30 yards out that looped over the outstretched arms of Seager. That would stand as the lone goal of the first period. In the second half the Thunder controlled the possession and saw numerous opportunities to score the equalizer, but it took them until the 77th minute to capitalize.
Sophomore forward Adam Blackman ran down a loose ball in the box and drew a foul on North Park goalie Tim Ahlberg as Ahlberg came off his line to contest Blackman for the ball. Junior midfielder Josh Clark converted the penalty shot to even the score at 1-1. As the regulation clock ran out, the score remained knotted, sending the game into overtime.
The Thunder came close to ending the game on multiple occasions in the two golden goal overtimes, but they could not quite get a shot past Ahlberg.
On one occasion, freshman midfielder Elliot Borge just missed scoring the game winner when he knocked a shot off the crossbar. Freshman forward Stephen Golz tried to put the rebound in, but Ahlberg made a diving save to his left to keep his team alive.
Wheaton outshot North Park 8-3 in the two overtimes, but neither team scored, and the game moved to penalty kicks to decide the conference’s NCAA tournament representative. It was the first time the Thunder had gone to a shootout since the 2009 CCIW title game.
The first kick was attempted by Clark, who once again got the ball by Ahlberg. Viking Markus Folstad was next up, and his shot was kick saved by Seager. Sophomore defender Noah Anthony converted on Wheaton’s second attempt. Seager once again stopped a North Park penalty shot as Iain Chester was unable to find the net on his attempt.
Borge kept the Thunder perfect as he put the third penalty kick in, but Jonas Pettersson kept the Vikings alive by converting North Park’s third shot, bringing the count to 3-1 in the shootout. With the silent Thunder supporters watching, Skinker stepped up and made the game-winning penalty shot, sending Wheaton’s fans rushing onto the field as the team clinched a trip to the national tournament.
Wheaton outshot North Park 30-10 in the contest, with an 8-6 advantage in shots on frame. The Thunder also held an 8-1 edge in corner kicks on the night. Ahlberg allowed one goal and made seven saves, while Seager made five saves and allowed a single goal.
According to Seager, the key to crucial saves in the shootout was composure. After the first save, he had the advantage.
“For me it is a mental game of showing calm composure and confidence. You step on that line, look them in the eye and do your best to read their body language and take a guess. Getting animated and showing a lot of emotion in my opinion only hurts you, but once you save one there is a bit of doubt in their mind and that’s when you gain the advantage,” Seager said.
With a rash of injuries to many of the seniors and captains this year, Seager has stepped up as a leader for this team as the only senior and captain to consistently play significant minutes. The other six seniors and captains have played in an average of nine games each this year, while Seager has played in 19. He credits his fellow captains, however, for continuing to be dedicated to the team despite adversity.
“I have the amazing privilege to lead an amazing group of guys. We have four captains and even though I may be the most visible one on the field, the other three help make me a better leader. Jason Lollar, Matt Hussey and Jordan (Golz) show immense leadership amidst adversity,” he said.
The pairings, times and host sites for the NCAA tournament were announced on Monday, Nov. 5, and Wheaton was chosen to host the first and second rounds of the tournament.
Ohio Wesleyan University (13-2-5) will face Centre College (Ky.) (14-3-3) at 5 p.m. tonight in the first men’s game of the night, followed by Wheaton’s first round matchup against Transylvania University (Ky.) (16-1-2) at 7:30 p.m. The two winners will square off tomorrow, Nov. 10, for a chance to go to the sweet 16. All three games will be at Joe Bean Stadium and can be heard on WETN 88.1 FM or online at www.wetn.org.
Editor’s Note: Kevin Skinker is the design editor for the Record.
Banner and Photo Credit: Frank Scoffield
Printed in the November 9, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.