The men’s and women’s soccer teams both managed to secure their spots in the Midwest Conference Tournament. This is the third consecutive Midwest conference championship for the women and the sixth consecutive conference tournament appearance for the men. This has caused much excitement in the soccer programs, especially for the seniors.
The men were victorious over Lawrence on Oct. 20, clinching their spot after a 6-0 win. Senior goalkeeper Justin Dunn is looking forward to his fourth consecutive conference tournament appearance, but realizes the team has to take it one game at a time if they want to make it further than past years.
“After three years of defeat for us seniors and five years of defeat for the program in the tournament, we feel that this is the year we will get the monkey off our backs,” Dunn said in an email. “It is always fun playing cup football in November and it really gets the adrenaline flowing. Us upperclassmen understand the importance of taking it one game at a time and not focusing on anything else.”
Last year, the men lost in the first game of the Midwest Conference Tournament to Grinnell College 2-3, a tough loss while hosting the tournament at home.
The women are also looking forward to another shot at the national tournament, after winning the conference tournament last year and losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They fell to Wheaton College with a 0-2 loss against the #17 nationally ranked team.
Senior Bre Moreira has a special sentiment, after being able to participate in the team’s success the past four years.
“It was the most amazing feeling knowing that not only did we make the tournament, but that we also get to host it on our own turf,” Moreira said in an email. “There was honestly no better feeling than that moment and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.”
In 2015, the women lost in the second game of the Midwest Conference Tournament. In 2016, they lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Washington University in St. Louis, similar to last year’s loss in the first round there. The teams both have special preparations for the coming challenges.
For the men, freshman Owen Keleher agrees with Dunn’s sentiment of taking it one game at a time. For now, the men are focused on their Saturday matchup.
“First, we need to get past Cornell on Saturday,” Keleher said. “After that we’ll be locked in at practice all week, there’s always room for improvement and we still have stuff to work on.”
For the women, they have the same focus, one game at a time. Senior goalkeeper Sierra Daniger also wants to focus on training hard.
“We will be training with more intent and focus. This past week of practices have been strong, and we will continue to train at our top game,” Daniger said. “We as a team know that the more we focus at practice, the more effort we put into training, the better our performance in games.”
Dunn said the team will prepare by playing every game like it’s their last, as it very easily could be once single elimination play comes to fruition.
“We know nothing is ever going to be handed to us and that we have to work hard to achieve our goal of winning the Conference Tournament. But it starts by winning the first game,” Dunn said.
The underclassmen for both teams have stepped up immensely. For the women, freshman Lydia Mitchell and sophomore Brooklyn Deming are the leaders in goal scoring for the Fire, at seven and six goals respectively on the season thus far. For the men, sophomore Alessandro Benelli and freshman Jake Totty are high on the board for goal scoring as well, with five and three goals respectively on the season.
Totty believes the word “freshman” is just a label and doesn’t speak to their skill or competency to play on the team.
“Being a freshman is simply a label that some of us are given but it doesn’t define our impact or motivation to help bring this team success,” Totty said. “I’m looking forward to experiencing this feeling every year I’m a part of this program and settling for nothing less.”
Freshman Olivia Grierson on the women’s squad is also very excited about being a freshman and being able to contribute to the team’s success.
“I feel incredibly excited and hopeful for this program’s future because of our success thus far,” Grierson said in an email. “Being a young player means that myself and all the other freshmen have a lot of growing to do over the next few years, but the fact that we are able to contribute to the success of the team now means that we can only become stronger and better as the years progress.”
Freshman Ashton Zeringue wants to step up for the seniors before him that built the program into what it is today.
“Being a freshman makes it feel special because the seniors who graduated last year really brought this program to what it is today,” Zeringue said. “There’s pressure on us to help step up and fill in the gaps that those graduated players left.”
For the seniors, this is a very emotional time as it is their final season and for most, their fourth appearance in the conference tournament. For Moreira, it’s very special.
“I tear up a little because I really can’t believe it’s our last season for us seniors. We’ve been through so much together over the past four years and our soccer careers are finally coming to an end,” Moreira said. “I feel so lucky to have another opportunity to play in the tournament and potentially win another championship. I can’t wait to see what we will do.”
Senior Hannah Lewis feels sadness for the seniors in the programs they’ve already played, understanding it has come to an early end for those that aren’t as fortunate as the Fire.
“For the other teams that didn’t make it into the tournament, I have a heavy heart for their seniors. That means their season is done and they will not get the chance to play with their friends again,” Lewis said in an email. “We have earned the privilege to keep playing and we have a chance to play the sport we all fell in love with when we were younger.”
The men and women will take on Cornell College on Saturday, Oct. 27. The men will play at 11 a.m. and the women at 1:30 p.m. This will be senior day for both teams.