Wells double OT goal sends Ocelots to national tournament
By Nick Misiak
Before Mens Soccer Head Coach Rick Larson finalized his roster earlier this fall, he had one goal in mind—a National Championship. On Nov. 2 at Lake Michigan Community College, Schoolcraft freshman Costa Wells received a pass from sophomore Nate Bergeson, then took a shot from six yards out that snuck past Ancilla Community College Chargers’ freshman goalkeeper Samuel Lopez at 103:02 in double overtime for a 1-0 victory. This took the Ocelots one step closer to their national championship goal by capturing the NJCAA Region XII Championship title.
The victory also gave Larson and his team a berth into the NJCAA Division 1 National Championship Tournament, to be played in Prescott, Arizona from Nov. 18 to the 23.
“Nate [Bergeson] just put a simple chip on the ball and it came right to my chest,” said Wells. “I let it sit down with a quick touch, and with the outside of my foot, I put it right around the goalie.”
Wells’ shot hit the bottom of the left post, bounced into the air and crossed the goal line in the upper 90.
“Costa got it on the top of the six, took about a three second delay and just tucked it bottom left,” said sophomore Alex Podolski. “I don’t know how he snuck it in past the goalie. It was crazy.”
In a deadlocked game featuring six yellow cards, Schoolcraft battled to defeat Ancilla, an opponent who handed the Ocelots one of their two losses earlier this season.
“It feels great” said Larson. “The players here have made a tremendous commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and on the field. This team is fantastic at wearing other teams out and by the 60th minute our opponents are exhausted.”
The Ocelots used their conditioning to their advantage, outshooting Ancilla 7-4 in the second half and 4-1 in overtime.
“We just totally destroyed them in overtime,” said Podolski. “They were just dead. After 90 minutes, they were done. As soon as it went into overtime, we knew it was game over.”
In his nine-year tenure as the head coach at Schoolcraft, Larson has led his team to four National Tournaments, but has fallen short to reach the finals in his previous three. He hopes that this year’s team, led by the offensive duo of freshmen Jon Quintana and Victor Contreras, sophomore Alex Podloski and goalkeeper Andres Hernandez, will to be able to push their way through the field of 12 and claim Schoolcraft’s first ever Mens Soccer National Championship.
“I think we still haven’t realized how much it means. Everybody is excited,,” said Hernandez. “If all of us are focused, I think we can win that title. It’s just four games away.”
This year’s team has created an identity for itself through the tremendous bond of trust shared between all of the players on the field. Larson has used a complete team approach to win several games this season, with all of his players participating in five or more games this season.
“I think we’re at the point of the season where everybody trusts each other. If I trust my defense, they trust me. The whole team trusts me, so I don’t think we are going to have a problem,” said Hernandez.
Even the leading goal scorer, Contreras, believes that the team is more important than individual play.
“Being the goal leader means a lot because I have to put in more work and there is more pressure on me to help the team,” said Contreras. “I think that the best player on the team is all of us— the 11 on the field.”
Schoolcraft has been placed in Group A, along with top seeded Iowa Western Community College and Coffeyville (KS) Community College. They first play Coffeyville on Wednesday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m., and then face Iowa Western on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. Both matches will be held in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
The entire Schoolcraft team is excited to be going to Arizona, and the drawing of the top ranked team in the tournament has given the Ocelots a tough group to advance out of.
“We go in to everything confident now after knowing what we can do, so I don’t think that anyone’s worried,” said Wells. “We are ready to go. Everybody is pretty amped for this tournament.”
If the Ocelots are able to play a controlled and disciplined game, they believe they can defeat any team in the country.
“I honestly don’t care if Iowa Western is ranked number one. I don’t think they can score on us if we play well,” said Hernandez.
Larson and his team leave for Arizona with confidence, determination and a passionate desire to win a National Championship. His entire team, from the leading goal scorer to the third string goaltender, has put in countless hours training and practicing for this tournament. The entire Schoolcraft community will be following their journey in Prescott hoping for their Ocelots to bring home the first National Championship in the history of the men’s program.