Sweet surprise: MNU men’s soccer ends year with national tournament berth
Jonathan Koch threw his jersey into his bag and stormed over to Cook Center. The text he had received from his coach was clear.
“[Coach] was like, ‘Team meeting at 12, bring your gear,’” Koch said. "We’re gonna do gear check out … we didn’t make it. Everyone was super depressed and angry.”
This is the first time in Koch’s four years of soccer at MNU that the university wouldn’t be in the national championship tournament—an ending he didn’t want for his senior year.
As he stomped into the room filled with disgruntled players, a TV screen was rolling the list of NAIA schools that had made it to the national competition. He leapt up in surprise; MidAmerica Nazarene University was on the list. Somehow, the university made it to the national tournament.
One week later, on a chilly Saturday afternoon, Koch looked at the scoreboard. There the score stood: 2-1, with Wayland Baptist coming out on top. The one goal he scored just wasn’t quite enough as the clock hit 90 minutes. MNU had fallen.
Though a seemingly sad end to the season, this is still a year that by most accounts would be deemed a success. Out of 199 teams, only 30 make it to the national competition each year.
Head Coach Kevin Wardlaw said that MNU has set an extremely high standard for itself.
“[MNU has] made the Sweet 16 at least every single year since 2012,” Wardlaw said. “Inside of that were two Final Fours and a national championship game.” This was the break in that five-year streak.
Even qualifying for the national competition was difficult this year. Goalkeeper Juan Pablo Riesco said that there were questions as to whether the university would make the cut.
“We knew it was going to be tied because the results that went through the country had surprises,” Riesco said. “ We didn’t know if we were going to make it.”
The season had a big finish for MNU’s 11 senior soccer players. For many, this is the end of their soccer careers, but some hope to continue in the game.
“I have been in talks,” Riesco said, “[Going professional] is the plan.”
For MNU soccer however, the team looks to the future, specifically next season. This is a larger senior class than normal, and the large turnover will affect the team’s chemistry.
“The team will have a new look next year,” Wardlaw said. “That’ll be interesting because we haven’t really had a new look for quite a few years.”
Wardlaw also thinks next year’s team will have to make a new identity for MNU soccer.
Despite the turnover of seniors and the performance of the team this year, Wardlaw is sure that the pattern of excellence in MNU soccer will continue.
Alex Schmitt- More by this author
Alex Schmitt is a History at MidAmerica Nazarene University, and he is also the news editor for The Trailblazer.