Men’s soccer narrowly misses automatic bid to NCAA tournament
After finishing the regular season on a six-game winning streak and claiming their 11th conference title, the Duhawks were flying high, headed for the IIAC tournament. As the top seed, Loras earned a bye into the semifinals, where they versed Simpson.
The men continued their offensive prowess with a 5-2 victory and kept their postseason hopes alive. The championship match was now set, as Loras would be playing host to Luther in a rematch of the regular season finale. The Duhawks took the first matchup in a tight, one-goal affair, but this time around would be a much different game.
The Norse came out looking to make a statement, which they did with three goals in the first 45 minutes. Even with a number of scoring chances, Loras was unable to crack the scoreboard and found themselves searching for answers as they headed to the locker room trailing 3-0. The Duhawks knew they needed a swift answer in the second half, which they got thanks to senior Kyler Olsen.
A scramble in front of the net left the ball at Olsen’s feet, who tucked his shot inside the far post and cut into the deficit. Any momentum the Duhawks may have gained was quickly taken away when Luther struck again to regain their three goal advantage.
With time running out, the Duhawks furiously fought to stay in the game. First-year Mark Broderick scored his first collegiate goal in the 81st minute, which was followed shortly by Olsen’s second of the night, putting the Duhawks only one goal away from tying it up.
The final six minutes saw Loras try everything in their power to get the equalizer, but they were turned away on each opportunity. The final horn sounded and Luther came away with the conference tournament championship, their first since 2002.
Despite the loss in the final, it seemed like the Duhawks had a solid resume for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, their name was not called last Monday, and Loras was left on the outside looking in for the first time since 2005.
“The Monday we found out we would not be in the NCAA tournament, I think all of us were a little shocked,” explained senior captain Alex Bradley. “We knew we had not started the season the way we would have wanted to when we were at 5-4. However we had seriously turned our season around after an 8-1 run to end the season. We thought that should have been enough to get us into the tournament.”
All five losses by the Duhawks this season came against teams who received bids, including crosstown rival University of Dubuque.
Though a disappointing end to this year’s season, the program is set up well for the foreseeable future with the loaded crop of underclassmen at Coach Dan Rothert’s disposal.
“The guys we are leaving behind are extremely talented, and I believe they really do have what it takes to take them back deep in the tournament. And who knows, maybe they’ll get another chance to fight for that first National Championship,” said Bradley.
Juniors Jacob Peterson and Spencer Moore return for their senior campaigns, looking to lead Loras back into postseason play after each earning first team all-conference honors. First-year Liam O’Connell made a huge impact in his first collegiate season, earning a second team all-conference selection with five goals and two assists. These three will be important aspects of the program moving forward, as they attempt to get back into the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
The class of 2017 will leave campus as one of the most successful to come through the men’s soccer program, finishing with a 67-15-6 overall record and three NCAA tournament appearances, including advancing to the Final Four twice and the national championship last season.
Even with all the winning on-field by the 11 graduating seniors, the most important part is off-field and the brotherhood amongst the team. Alex Bradley summed it up perfectly.
“I have never been a part of a group of guys every year that continues to be as close as this one. I know I will keep these friendships and relationships I have created for years to come, and I cannot wait to see every single one of the guys down the road at reunions to talk about some of the stories and memories we created.”