Column: Scoping GVSU soccer's playoff slate
Lakers searching for third consecutive national championship
The No. 1 Grand Valley State soccer team will continue its quest for another Division II national championship after the 2015-16 Division II Selection Show slotted the Lakers (19-1-0) as the No. 1 seed and host of its region.
The No. 1 seed also gives GVSU a first-round bye, as it will await the winner of Friday’s match between the No. 4 seed Quincy and No. 5 seed University of Missouri-St. Louis.
GVSU has been familiar with Quincy (13-3-4) both in the past and this season. The only blemish on the Lakers' record is an season-opening loss to the Hawks -- a game played on Quincy's home field.
The Lakers have played the Hawks three times in the past three seasons, including one NCAA tournament match. GVSU has won two of those matches, with the 2015 tilt as the lone loss.
The Lakers' other potential competitor is the USML Tritons (12-4-4). The two teams have not met since 2009, but the Lakers would do well to be wary of USML. The Tritons have already played well against a higher-seeded regional opponent in Bellarmine (16-2-2), who is the No. 2 seed in the region.
Bellarmine faced USML twice this season. The teams tied 2-2 in the first match in St. Louis, and in the second meeting, the Tritons got the better of the Knights, 2-1 in Louisville in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament.
USML and Quincy also faced off against each other in the regular season, but the game didn't glean much information for either side, as they drew 1-1.
If GVSU is able to make it past either the Hawks or the Tritons, it would likely to face No. 2 Bellarmine in the regional final. The two teams last met in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, when the Lakers defeated the Knights 2-0 in a snowstorm in Allendale. Since then, though, both teams have changed.
A couple of other schools in the tournament have the potential to dethrone the Lakers and end their quest for a national title three-peat. One of those schools is Gannon University. The Golden Knights (18-2) held the No. 1 ranking in the country before losing late in their season. The Lakers overtook the top ranking from Gannon late in the regular season, but the Golden Knights still earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Another team capable of upsetting the Lakers is Minnesota State University-Mankato. The Mavericks' (17-1-2) only loss of the season came courtesy of GVSU by a slim 2-1 margin. The Mavericks played the Lakers tough for 90 minutes, something few teams could accomplish this season. They are a No. 2 seed in Central Missouri’s region.
The potential opponents the Lakers must face are just one of many questions heading into NCAA tournament play. GVSU will be facing teams which will attack and make a serious effort to score. In GLIAC play, some opponents would try to park the bus against the Lakers, or primarily play defense and not attack. However, like most coaches say, the tournament is a new season, and teams aren’t afraid of anybody, no matter what the ranking.
This poses the question of defense and goalkeeping. The Lakers' defense has been solid all season long, allowing fewer than 10 goals in 19 matches and fewer than three goals in conference play. With teams willing to attack the Lakers more, the question becomes the talent of freshman goalkeeper Emily Maresh, who has not been tested much this season. If she and the defense in front of her continue to play strong, the Lakers are well on their way to another national championship.