After losing the NCAC Championship the weekend before, the No. 5 Kenyon men’s soccer team bounced back and comfortably progressed through the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division III tournament, beating Greenville University (Ill.) 6-1 and No. 6 Calvin University (Mich.) 4-0 just a day later. The rainy and snowy conditions did not stop the Owls from making it into the Sweet 16 for the third time in their last four tournament appearances.
On Friday, Kenyon faced off against the Greenville Panthers and needed only seven minutes to start the party. After clearing away a free kick at their end of the field, the Owls quickly sprung a counter-attack through Max Thesing ’24, who played an inch-perfect pass to Sam Carson ’23. Carson looked to be through on goal when a Panthers defender tackled him from behind and the referee called for a penalty kick. Scott Upton ’23, the designated penalty taker, stepped up and scored his third penalty of the season, despite the goalkeeper getting his fingertips to the ball. Eight minutes later, the Owls capitalized on another Greenville defensive error when Eamon Dujakovich ’25 won the ball high up the pitch. Dujakovich, who drew the goalkeeper out, chipped the ball over his head and toward Sebastian Gaese ’23. Gaese promptly nodded home the eventual game winner, doubling Kenyon’s lead.
The Owls did not rest on their laurels, however. Just as the rain kept relentlessly pouring down, Kenyon continued to attack, not allowing Greenville to get back into the game. The Owls found the back of the net again in the 32nd minute when Mac Nardiello-Smith ’24 drew a foul five yards outside of the Panthers’ box. Kenyon’s top goalscorer Alem Duratovic ’25 took the free kick and scored his first of three on the day, managing to squeeze the shot through the leaky Panthers wall and into the bottom left corner. Four minutes later, Duratovic was at it again, finishing off a beautiful move from Atli Hrafnkelsson ’23. Hrafnkelsson collected the ball from a throw-in and gracefully evaded three defenders before finding a wide open Duratovic at the left side of the box. Duratovic then clinically curved his shot across goal and into the bottom right corner, making it 4-0 Owls going into halftime.
In the second half, Kenyon subbed out many of their starting players, but nonetheless still controlled the game and continued to attack. Carson got his goal in the 62nd minute when he ran on to the end of a beautiful pass from Gerardo Martinez ’25. Carson dribbled around the keeper and chipped the ball into the net from a tight angle. Then in the 85th minute, Duratovic, assisted by Jacob Lazarus ’25, completed his hat-trick by scoring a beautiful curling effort into the top right corner from 20 yards out. The Owls did ultimately concede a goal with 21 seconds to go, but it was too little, too late for Greenville, who were thoroughly outplayed. The defense was stout as always, allowing only three shots on goal throughout the entire game, with none coming in the first half.
Mavec Field traded rain for snow the following day when Kenyon faced off against the Calvin Knights for the first time since 2015, when Calvin came away victorious in an Elite Eight matchup. But no amount of cold weather could stop the on-fire Owls, as more than 400 fans turned out to see their school’s ninth straight second-round game. The Knights added even more fuel to the fiery matchup, as two Calvin players saw red cards and four others received yellow cards over the 90 minutes.
Kenyon started quick out of the gate, notching two shots on goal in the opening four minutes. The Owls found their breakthrough in the 16th minute with the help of Luke Muther ’23. Muther sprinted down his favored right-hand side and connected with Gaese in the box. With his back toward goal, Gaese turned and rocketed his shot past a Calvin defender and goalkeeper, making it 1-0. Then in the 28th minute, the Owls launched one of their signature whirlwind counter-attacks off of a Calvin free kick. Gaese picked the ball up in midfield and found Carson, who ran in behind the Knights’ backline and was in on goal. However, Carson was tackled by the goalkeeper just outside the box, which left the referee no choice but to send off the Calvin keeper in what was a clear denial of a goalscoring opportunity. If the momentum hadn’t been with the Owls before, it was now. But despite their numerical advantage, Kenyon could not score for the rest of the half, and it was still 1-0 entering the break.
The noticeably fatigued Knights, who only brought on five substitutes from the bench throughout the 90 minutes, could not do much in a second 45 minutes dominated by the Owls. In the 54th minute, center-back Matt Nguyen ’26 doubled Kenyon’s lead off of a corner. As the cross came in, Upton passed across goal toward Gaese, who redirected the ball toward the center of the box. Nguyen was the first to it and volleyed the ball into the back of the net from close range before being engulfed by his ecstatic teammates. Ten minutes later, Duratovic, who has now scored nine goals in his past eight appearances, continued his impressive goalscoring form when he drew a penalty and dispatched it down the middle, making it 3-0.
In the ensuing walk to the center circle, a Calvin forward made a comment to the referee, who immediately showed him a red card, reducing the Knights to nine men, to the cheers of the Kenyon student section. The Owls’ final goal came in the 84th minute when Johan Johannsson ’23 played a pass out wide to Aidan Schoellkopf ’23, who returned the favor seconds later. Johannsson met the ball in stride and volleyed it past the keeper at his near post before running to celebrate with the fans, cementing a winter wonderland win for the Owls. “It is always a special feeling scoring a goal. Especially for a defensive midfielder. But this goal was truly special, scoring in the NCAA tournament, in front of the amazing KCMS ultras [devoted fans],” said Johannsson in an email to the Collegian. “I definitely blacked out for a moment in the midst of the celebration.”
The Owls will play host on Saturday to No. 9 Washington and Lee University (Va.). After winning the Old Dominion Athletic Conference with an overall record of 16-2-4, Washington and Lee hosted their first two round matchups against Brevard College (N.C.) and Muhlenberg College (Pa.). The Owls will face off against the Generals at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
At 11 a.m., the other Saturday matchup will take place between Williams College (Mass.), 7-1-11, and Ohio Northern, 13-3-5. After playing in the NESCAC, Williams advanced after upsetting No. 1 Messiah University (Pa.) on the road. Kenyon has never faced Williams, but they did beat Ohio Northern 6-2 on the road earlier this season. Ohio Northern hosted their first two round games, despite losing in the semifinals of the Ohio Athletic Tournament.
The winners of the two Sweet 16 matchups will play each other on Mavec Field Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Elite Eight.
When asked about their upcoming run of games, Johannsson was very confident in the team. “I am 100% certain that this group can go all the way,” he said. “This is by far the most talented and the most cohesive group since I came to Kenyon.” The secret trick? There is none, says Johannsson — they just have to keep doing what they’ve been doing. “We just have to focus on one half at a time and see how far that takes us,” he said.
Rankings are from Week 10 of D3soccer.com Men’s Top 25.