Maroons Battle the Elements, Returning With a Place in the Last 16

The men’s soccer team won two playoff games this weekend to continue their progress in the NCAA Division III Championship.

By Finn Hartnett

The UChicago men’s soccer team travelled to blustery Westerville, Ohio over the weekend to begin their NCAA postseason run and returned to Hyde Park with two shutout wins under their belt. 

The No.10 ranked Maroons’ first match was a 3-0 dispatching of Missouri’s Webster University. Sophomore Will Boyes in goal may as well have spent his Saturday back on the team bus—UChicago’s defense held Webster to just three shots all game, none of which were on target.  

UChicago broke the deadlock about halfway through the first half, when junior Naz Kabbani played an excellent long ball which sophomore Ryan Yetishefsky took down with a deft touch and stabbed in. It was his team-leading seventh goal of the season. In the second half, sophomore Tanner Baldwin smashed in a volley following a lovely passing move by the Maroons. Fifth-year senior Ben Brandt put the game out of reach for Webster with a 74th-minute header. 

UChicago’s win was made even more impressive considering Webster’s sparkling regular-season form. The Gorloks came into the playoffs and won the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament just a week prior with a penalty-shootout victory over Spalding University. “They came out a lot better than I thought they’d come out,” sophomore Nathan Moonesinghe said of the match. “In the second half, we kind of picked up on their game plan, switched our formation…. They definitely played well, but I think we reacted well.” 

On Sunday, the Maroons battled No. 9 ranked Otterbein University in the second round of the tournament, though it could be argued that the true test for both sides was actually Mother Nature. Two hours of heavy snowfall before the match, coupled with flurries that persisted throughout the 90 minutes, meant the pitch appeared more white than green. “It was kind of surreal,” Yetishefsky said. “Playing your normal version of soccer just went out the window.” In addition to all the snow, both Otterbein’s kits and the ball itself were white; watching the game, at times, was like staring into a magic-eye picture. At least the UChicago players, who wore their black away strip, were easy to spot. 

More and more green footprints appeared on the turf as the game went on, as the players sprinted around trying to keep warm. The uneven snow meant short passing and running with the ball became extremely difficult. Sometimes, the ball would be stopped by the snow; sometimes it would hit an icy patch and skid away. For UChicago’s first goal, sophomore Maina Ngobia showed impressive technique in dribbling through the conditions and around a number of defenders on the right wing. He squared the ball to senior Sahil Modi in the center of the box, who tapped it to midfielder Lyndon Hu. The first-year's shot found its way into the bottom corner—his second-ever goal for UChicago

UChicago’s second goal came just before halftime, when first-year Jack Leuker swung in a corner from the right. The ball hung in the air for what felt like an eternity before defender Richard Gillespie powered a header toward goal. The ball crept just over the line before Otterbein goalkeeper Andrew McIlvoy was able to get his glove to it, and UChicago took a 2-0 lead. The Cardinals, chasing the game, registered a number of shots in the second half, but the Maroons still saw the game out without much trouble; the match ended with the same score. 

After their weekend wins, UChicago’s record improved to an impressive 14-5-1. Sophomore Cal LeDoux commented on how the team has maintained strong performances despite facing adversity this season. “Especially [after the] snow game, we’ve kind of been through the ringer, whether it’s [weather] conditions or a tough stretch in the regular season.” 

The team’s next test will come this afternoon, in the form of a round-of-16 clash with Calvin University, an Evangelical school from Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Knights have posted a dominant 17-3-2 record so far this season, but the Maroons will still like their chances against them; one of Calvin’s two losses came in Hyde Park. The Maroons will need a similar performance this time around if they want to continue their quest for the 2021 NCAA Division III Championship; LeDoux, for one, is confident they can pull it off. “They’re definitely a very good team,” he said of Calvin, “but I think we’re going to be good [value] for it.”