Section: Soccer

Despite loss, Owls will start NCAA tournament at Mavec

Despite loss, Owls will start NCAA tournament at Mavec

Owls open tournament play on Nov. 11. | COURTESY OF ISOO O’BRIEN

When the final whistle sounded on the NCAC championship game last year, Kenyon men’s soccer watched as the visiting team’s bench poured onto Mavec Field. In losing the conference tournament, the unranked Lords had to travel to Mechanicsburg, Pa. to ultimately compete against Messiah University (Pa.), where their season ended. On the bus ride home, Head Coach Chris Brown addressed the team’s season. “[I] told them I was very proud of them, glad to be their coach and can’t wait for 2022!!” 

This year, the Owls soared to the No. 3 ranking in the nation in late September. Entering as the No. 1 seed in the NCAC tournament, Kenyon defeated Wabash College 4-0 in the NCAC semifinals on Tuesday before they fell to Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) 2-1 in the conference finals. Unlike last year, the Owls will host the NCAA Division III soccer tournament’s first- and second-round matches due to their strong record (16-1-1 after postseason play) and their No. 3 ranking at the season’s conclusion. 

NCAC Tournament

In the opening match of the NCAC tournament, the Owls swept aside Wabash College 4-0, keeping their undefeated season alive and propelling themselves into the NCAC playoff final. It took Kenyon 33 minutes to open the scoring, when Isaac Cortez ’26 tapped in his second goal in two games. Entering the second half with the score still at 1-0, the Owls pressured the Little Giants into an own goal just two minutes in. From there, Kenyon cruised to victory. Gerardo Martinez ’25, in his second game back from injury, scored a beautiful volley from outside the box to make it 3-0 in the 60th minute. Six minutes later, Cortez picked up his second yellow card and was sent off, which made him ineligible for the final against Ohio Wesleyan University.

But playing with ten men for the last 30 minutes hardly deterred the Owls. With 15 minutes to go, Alem Duratovic ’25 collected the ball near midfield, dribbled past his defender, and snuck his shot into the bottom right corner to score the final goal of the game. The Kenyon defense allowed only two shots on goal, both of which were saved by Jack Pedreschi ’25.  

On Saturday, the Owls sought redemption from last year’s NCAC final loss, and 637 spectators came out to watch the game. The corner and center flags were flying in the 20 mph wind, which ended up playing a factor in the game.

The Owls started off the first half shooting on net with the wind at their back, and they used their advantage to pressure the Battling Bishops heavily throughout the first half. Kenyon almost opened the scoring in the 13th minute when a corner by Luke Muther’s ’23 found Scott Upton ’23 at the back post, but the OWU goalkeeper made a fantastic save onto the bar to keep it all square. However, with seven minutes left in the first half, Kenyon finally broke through with the first goal of the game. David McCrory ’23 received the ball high up the pitch and spotted the run of Duratovic into the box. Duratovic controlled the ball gracefully and slotted home his 14th goal of the season. But despite Kenyon’s four corner kicks and four shots, they could not double their lead before the first half came to a close. 

The Owls came to regret not doubling their lead during the first 45 minutes, as right from the second half kickoff the Battling Bishops forced Pedreschi to palm the ball out of play and draw a corner. The ensuing cross bounced around in the box before an OWU attacker lifted the ball into the top left corner and tied the score at one. The Owls were shell-shocked for a bit before they got back to executing their gameplan. “We were stunned for a couple minutes but quickly regained control of the match and pushed for another goal,” Upton wrote in an email to the Collegian

In the 65th minute, the Battling Bishops broke the hearts of the Owls’ fans when they scored the eventual winning goal. An OWU attacker snuck in between two Kenyon defenders in the box and on a cross, headed the ball past Pedreschi at close range. The Owls found themselves in unfamiliar territory, having only trailed for a collective two minutes out of a total 1,500 minutes over 17 games this season. 

Needing a goal to keep their undefeated season alive, Kenyon pressed higher and higher up the pitch, whipping in cross after cross and taking shot after shot. But OWU, who were entirely focused on defending their lead, played spirited team defense and could not be broken down. OWU goalkeeper Mason Taylor, who was named the tournament MVP for his heroics, made a reflex save with his feet to deny Sam Carson ’23 in front of an open goal with only four minutes left to play. Then, in heartbreaking fashion, Upton’s header from a corner with 10 seconds to go was chested off the goal line by an OWU player, cementing Kenyon’s first loss of the year. Ultimately, the Owls’ 11 second-half shots were not enough to tie the game as Kenyon fell just short once again in securing that NCAC playoff championship that has eluded them since the pandemic began. 

Clearly saddened by the fact that they did not lift the NCAC trophy, the Owls recognized that they still have a shot at the national championship. Upton felt for the fans who came out. “After the whistle we were definitely upset, but I think we were most upset about letting the fans down who provided great support all match,” he said.

NCAA Tournament Preview

Kenyon will host three matches in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament at Mavec Field in Gambier. They will face Greenville University (Ill.), which has a record of 11-3-5, in the first round on Friday at 11:00 a.m., followed by a match between Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.), 11-4-1, and No. 17 Calvin University (Mich.), 16-2-2. On Saturday, the previous day’s winners will play each other at 1:00 p.m. 

This is Kenyon’s ninth consecutive tournament appearance. “We have an experienced team who has been through all of the ups and downs of an NCAA tournament,” said Upton. “We just have to be focused and not have any mental lapses.” Furthermore, the team has been well-tested all year, facing a slew of teams who are in the postseason tournament. Most of the games came on the road, and to Brown, this means experience. “Those games are not easy, and it helps get a team ready,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian.

The Owls have faced four teams that are in the tournament, going 3-1-1 including the two matches against OWU. On Sept. 1, Kenyon handily defeated No. 11 Ohio Northern (13-3-3) in Gambier, and then downed No. 19 John Carroll University 2-1 on the road two days later. On Sept. 24, Kenyon hosted No. 24 Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and sent them back to Cleveland with a 4-0 loss. 

There is an old adage in soccer that the best team does not always emerge victorious. The Owls experienced that last season and on Saturday. But Upton is confident not just in his team’s ability but also their mentality. “The most fearless and hungriest teams tend to make runs in this tournament,” he said. “And this year it has to be us.”

All seeds referenced in this article are as of Nov. 1 based on the United Soccer Coaches Poll unless otherwise stated.

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