November 8, 2013

Maroons to face Bears in NCAA decider

The Maroons now rank dead-center in the UAA with a conference record of 3–3 and overall record of 9–5–2. Their hopes of being selected for the NCAA DIII tournament rest on their final regular-season game against the Wash U Bears (9–4–3, 2–2–2 UAA).

The No. 19-ranked Bears sit right behind Chicago in the UAA standings. Both teams are playing to make the tournament, which begins on November 15. Teams with nine and 10 wins are generally on the cusp of being selected for the tournament, with four 9-win and three 10-win teams playing in the 2013 tournament. Historically, Chicago has just barely missed the cutoff, its last tournament appearance being in 2009 on a 12–3–3 record.

Currently at nine wins, Chicago is looking to strengthen its standing to ensure selection into the tournament. After last weekend, when the Maroons went 1–1 in two UAA conference games, the upcoming match has become vital for both the Maroons and their opponents.

“It was a tough result to swallow at this point in the year, but now we are just focused on Wash U next weekend,” said third-year forward and captain Kyle Kurfirst. “We will watch film and learn from Sunday, but now Wash U is the priority. We still are in the hunt for a tournament bid, but next weekend is a must-win for us.”

Both player and coach demonstrated similar mentalities and lines of thinking.

“I don’t think there is any lack of motivation after our disappointing loss to Brandeis. We do not want this to be our seniors’ last game, and we have been on a mission since we just missed out on a NCAA berth last year. As demonstrated by our [wins] against [No. 8] Wheaton (15–3–1), [No. 12] Rochester (12–2–2), and [No. 13] Carnegie Mellon (11–2–2) this year, we know we are capable of beating the very best teams. We have a really strong desire, and everyone can’t wait until Saturday to show the kind of soccer game that we are capable of playing,” assistant coach Mike Madero said.

As can be expected of two teams with similar records in the same conference, both teams are also close on paper.

“We match up quite evenly in many respects: We both have some very technical players, and we both like to move the ball around. Neither team is especially big, but we are both very competitive and have fought some really hard games this year right down to the last minute,” Madero said. “There is no one on this current team that has beaten Wash U, so there are more than a few guys that want to put an end to that statement.”

The Bears are quite young, anchored by 19 first-years out of their 38-member squad. Chicago will be careful against particularly dangerous players on the Bears, notably fourth-year forward Jeremy Kirkwood, who was named first-team All-UAA in 2012 and has been named a UAA Offensive Athlete of the Week.

The action kicks off this Saturday, where the Maroons will be hosting the Bears at Stagg Field at 11 a.m.