Men’s soccer tops NMU 3-1 to win GLIAC crown

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The SVSU men’s soccer team took to the pitch Friday, Oct. 28, knowing a win or a draw would secure them the GLIAC regular season championship. It was familiar territory for the Cardinals, who on the final day of last year’s regular season faced an identical scenario, but fell to Northwood and ultimately lost the GLIAC championship.

Determined to avoid a repeat performance, the team got exactly what it needed as they were victorious over Northern Michigan 3-1, winning their first GLIAC regular season championship since 2012.

“The win was unreal,” senior TJ Stephens said. “The past three seasons we’ve lost the championship on the last day and we knew this year would be different. We came out flying on our home field.”

The scoring began for SVSU 25 minutes in when Andrew Dalou found GLIAC points leader Matt Wilson for his 13th goal of the season, giving SVSU a 1-0 lead.

“We wanted to get an early lead following the energy from senior day,” said head coach Andy Wagstaff, who has now won a GLIAC title in just his second year at the helm of the Cardinals. “It wasn’t necessarily an early lead but it was a first half lead which was good. It was a really good goal from Matt.”

Just before halftime, SVSU snuck another goal in as Pablo Ortiz found Troy Watson about 20 feet away from the box and Watson put it in the back of the net giving SVSU a 2-0 halftime lead.

“(Watson) scored an unbelievable goal,” Wagstaff said. “He’s got the ability to shoot from distance and he did. To get the 2-0 lead going into halftime was big.”

Northern Michigan would answer in the 67th minute with a goal on a penalty kick.

“2-0 is never really a safe score line,” Wagstaff said. “They came back and got a penalty and made it 2-1 and made for some scary moments later in the half.”

However, SVSU would round out the scoring 17 minutes later on a goal from Dalou, securing the win and the conference title.

“The second half was a real grind,” Stephens said. “Northern showed they were a good team and we didn’t earn it just in the first half. Once they got the penalty kick we realized what was at stake. The third goal by (Dalou) was huge and a game changer.”

Northern played the Cardinals competitively, getting 12 shots including four on goal, three of which were saved by SVSU keeper Connor Keane.

The championship comes after a summer in which SVSU’s team came to school about a month early to begin preparing for the season. That month of training ended up paying dividends Friday afternoon.

“I’m overjoyed and really proud for the team,” Wagstaff said. “The lads came in early in July and worked really, really hard with our strength and conditioning coach Chris Winter and he did a phenomenal job with them. That combined with the work of our athletic trainer and my assistant coaches, we felt like there was a great vibe around this team this year.”

Despite starting GLIAC play 0-2, SVSU’s team showed remarkable resilience to storm back to the top of the GLIAC.

“To win the championship as a senior is impossible to explain,” Stephens said. “There is no better feeling than being called champions after everything we have been through.”

A program record eight game winning streak in the middle of the season went a long way in helping the Cardinals accomplish the feat, but the team is hungry to play many more games this season.

“The most important part of it all is that we are not done yet,” Stephens said. “We have many more goals to reach and many more big wins to come.”

The win pushed SVSU’s record to 14-3-1 overall and 12-3-1 in the GLIAC. The team is ranked 22nd in the country and will host the GLIAC tournament next weekend. This could turn out to be a huge advantage for the Cardinals, who have yet to lose on their home turf this season. From there, the team will head into the NCAA playoffs, looking to make a deep run.

“In the NCAA rankings last week we were second in the region,” Wagstaff said. “To get that No. 2 seed means you get a bye in the first round of the NCAA’s and then you play at home so I can’t do it justice how big it is for us to get ready mentally and physically for the GLIAC tournament that we’ll be hosting to try and secure that No. 2 seed.”

Specific game times have not yet been announced for next weekend, but are scheduled for Friday and Sunday.