GVSU soccer eliminated after NCAA Elite 8 classic against Central Missouri
After last year's senior soccer class graduated from Grand Valley State as "the greatest class in Division II soccer history," according to head coach Jeff Hosler, those outside the program had already dismissed the team's chances heading into this year.
“People wrote us off and thought we could never return to the standard that we were used to,” Hosler said.
While the team did have unique obstacles to overcome at the start of the season—they had to quickly adapt 12 freshmen and two transfers to their culture and recover from losing their first two games—those preseason naysayers were promptly proven wrong.
The Lakers responded to the early losses by winning their next 15 games, capturing the GLIAC regular season and tournament championship, earning the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, the Midwest Regional Championship and making it to their last stop: the Elite 8 of the NCAA Championship Tournament.
Sadly, the Elite 8 was the Lakers’ final destination after the No. 1 team in Division II, the Central Missouri Jennies (24-0-0), eliminated No. 4 GVSU (20-4-0) by a 3-1 final score Sunday, Nov. 19, at Central Missouri’s home field in Warrensburg, Missouri.
With the loss, this will be the first time in nine seasons that GVSU soccer will not be in the Final Four of the NCAA Championship Tournament and the first time not being in the National Championship Final since 2012. But against the top team in the country, there was not much coach Hosler could hang his head about.
“We just competed hard against the No. 1 team in the country at their home turf and in front of their own hometown fans,” Hosler said. “They were the best team we’ve played all year. Well-coached, well-organized, and not only are their players talented, but they also have great athleticism.”
That athleticism showed early in the contest as Central Missouri’s defense immediately began pressing GVSU’s offense with their speed and relentless pursuit. It became clear early on that the Lakers would be playing an opponent unlike any they had seen this season, but GVSU quickly adapted to the challenge by countering with their experienced defensive and midfield core, holding the Jennies to zero shots in the first 18 minutes.
However, the first shot by the Jennies put the first score on the board, putting the Lakers in a 1-0 deficit in the 19th minute. Central Missouri’s Makayla Toth received a pass that flew over two GVSU defenders inside the box for an open opportunity shot.
GVSU battled back offensively during the rest of the first half, having their fair share of opportunities to score. Even though GVSU outshot Central Missouri 10-7 in the first half, the Lakers seemed to have rushed their offensive opportunities as they entered halftime still down 1-0.
“We deserved better going into halftime being down 1-0 with the opportunities we had,” Hosler said. “The chances were coming, and they just didn’t fall through. The fast pace pushed both teams off, which is expected when nerves come into play.”
During the halftime break, coach Hosler made sure the team’s missed offensive opportunities didn’t hinder their confidence and mental toughness heading into the second half.
“I basically told them that we can’t look back and say ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ anymore,” Hosler said. “It was just telling that they have them prepared for these type of moments and that they just had to bury them.”
The Lakers came out the second half dominating the time of possession and pressuring Central Missouri’s defensive line. Midway through the second half, the Lakers had already attempted five shots compared to Central Missouri’s two, but nothing found the back of the net.
On the flip side, Central Missouri took advantage of their scoring opportunities after a GVSU defensive lapse led to the Jennies tacking on another goal in the 70th minute, making it a 2-0 deficit. With only 20 minutes remaining in regulation, coach Hosler and the rest of the team shifted their formation to add another forward up front to put more pressure on Central Missouri’s defense.
The strategy worked after freshman forward Ava Cook was fouled inside the box in the 78th minute, resulting in a penalty shot opportunity for GVSU. Stepping up for the Lakers was senior Gabriella Mencotti, who snuck the penalty shot right past the goalkeeper’s reach to keep the game’s score within 1. The goal was Mencotti’s 30th of the season, breaking her record last season of 29 goals.
The Lakers had another opportunity to score minutes later after senior Tracey McCoy appeared to make the game-tying shot, but the attempt went too high and barely bounced off the top crossbar.
By the end of the match, Central Missouri snuck in one more goal to bring the score to its 3-1 final. The loss meant not only the end of the season for GVSU but the end of seven seniors' collegiate careers. During their four years, the seniors made three trips to the NCAA Championship Finals while also bringing home the trophy twice.
But for the senior class, some of their greatest accomplishments this season didn’t happen on the field but behind the scenes accepting the newcomers and pushing them to their true potential when nobody believed in the team to still succeed.
“Having this senior class just showed the resolve of this group,” Hosler said. “They took these players under their wings and have been the best senior class in terms of being helpful to our freshmen.”
But for now, the torch from the senior class has now been passed down, as the GVSU soccer freshmen and the rest of the program will now have to wait until next season to redeem themselves.