For a good part of the past decade, the Kenyon College men’s soccer team has dominated the Denison University Big Red. Coming into the NCAC Championship game on Saturday, Kenyon had won nine games in a row against the Big Red, dating back to 2013. Unfortunately for the Lords, that dominance over the years did not play out on the pitch on Saturday. A goal by the Big Red in the first half left the Lords searching for a goal. The Lords’ student section at Mavec Field could be seen standing for the final 15 minutes of the game as they hoped their team could find a tying goal late in the second half. Unfortunately, that goal never came, and the Lords fell 1-0 at home.
The Lords controlled possession early on in the first half after taking the opening kickoff. However, the Big Red seemed to gain their footing 10 minutes into the game. After an errant pass in Kenyon’s own half in the 21st minute, the Big Red had an empty net in front of them and took advantage, scoring the first goal of the game. The rest of the first half went by without another goal. The Lords continued to put balls into the box, but they struggled to get shots on net.
After switching sides, Denison took the kickoff to start the half. In the early part of the second, both the Lords and the Big Red were getting chances, but neither team could find the back of the net. Around the 75th minute, momentum heavily swung in the Lords’ favor. However, the Denison’s back line held steady for the following 15 minutes, and secured the win and NCAC title.
With 11 corner kicks, and 22 shots, including six on net, the Lords had many chances, but it wasn’t enough. Kenyon could not recover from their first half blunder, and as time expired it was Denison’s bench that ran onto the field. The Big Red secured their third NCAC Conference Tournament title with the victory. After the game, Lords head coach Chris Brown told the team that they have made terrific progress over the course of the year. In reflecting on the game, Brown wrote to the Collegian and said it was “[a] tough loss bearing in mind we dominated. Just one of those days where we could have played for 3 hours and still would’ve had a difficult time scoring.”
By winning the NCAC Championship, Denison was guaranteed a spot in the 2021 Division III NCAA Tournament. Kenyon finished the regular season with a 14-1-1 record, with the lone loss coming to then-No. 20 John Carroll University, who will represent the Ohio Athletic Conference in the NCAA Tournament. With wins over then No. 4 Ohio Wesleyan University and the only other loss coming to Denison on Saturday, the Lords were still able to earn a berth in the NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer Tournament.
For their first-round matchup, Kenyon will travel to Mechanicsburg, Pa. where they will face the Catholic University of America Cardinals on Saturday at 3:30pm. The Cardinals won the Landmark Conference Tournament, earning one of the 43 automatic bids in the NCAA Tournament, and finishing the year with a record of 11-6-2.
As for the Lords, this will be their eighth straight appearance in the tournament, and 17th overall. In 2019, Kenyon made it to the Sweet Sixteen for the second consecutive year, before being bounced by Montclair State University. Brown admitted that due to the team’s consistency, he doesn’t get as excited as he used to when he gets the call confirming a tournament berth. “But it’s always great for our students to have a chance to compete for a National Championship,” Brown said.
The other game on Messiah University’s campus is between Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth Tournament Champion Messiah and Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Champion Mount Aloysius. The winners of the two games will face each other for the right to advance to the sweet sixteen.
The only previous matchup between the Lords and the Cardinals came in 2016 on a neutral field in Pittsburgh, Pa. with the Lords winning 3-0. “We’re very excited and looking forward to this weekend,” Brown said. “When we’re on form, we can beat anyone.”