All good things must come to an end. In sports, unfortunately, some good things must end all too soon.
On Saturday, No. 19 Chicago (12–6–2, 5–0–2 UAA) continued its momentous season with a 3–1 victory over St. Scholastica (20–3–0) in the first round of the NCAA Regional; however in Sunday’s match, host No. 16 Wartburg (13–3–6) prevailed over the Maroons, ending the South Siders’ season.
St. Scholastica was a tough opponent to figure out, as it entered the match as champ of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference with a 20–2 record but lacking any quality wins. The Maroons, who faced a plethora of ranked teams during the regular season, were prepared for anything and showed the Saints the strength of the UAA.
In his usual cutthroat, aggressive fashion, second-year forward Brenton Desai struck first, scoring in the 15th minute. The Saints countered in the 25th minute, but they couldn’t contain Desai, as he found the back of the net again early in the second half. Second-year midfielder Chris Mathis tacked on another goal in the 85th minute, but at that point, it was just insurance.
“We competed well against St. Scholastica,” fourth-year forward Kyle Kurfirst said. “The conditions were pretty tough, but nobody made excuses, and we were just focused on doing our jobs and getting a result. We played simple, and some guys stepped up to make big plays when we needed [them].”
As Sunday rolled around, Chicago kept up its aggressive mindset against host No. 16 Wartburg. However, it backfired in a pivotal moment: Chicago was taking a free kick and elected to kick it short instead of long, and Wartburg showed the Maroons its own pressure and scored a quick goal, grabbing the 1–0 lead late in the first half.
The South Siders attempted to increase the intensity but couldn’t quite muster a goal, and Wartburg scored once more late in the game when Chicago was pressing the most.
“We kept possession very well against both teams,” said second-year defender DJ Weis. “The difference was our cutting edge against St. Scholastica. We turned our possession into dangerous chances and eventually goals, while against Wartburg, we weren’t as dangerous.”
Although the Maroons reached the round of 32 with Saturday’s win, their season came to a close by Sunday. Nevertheless, this was one of the more impressive seasons for the men’s soccer team in recent memory.
Chicago finished 12–6–2 and undefeated in the conference, going 5–0–2, giving up just two goals all conference season. This was the Maroons’ third UAA championship in school history and the sixth time they reached the NCAA postseason.
This season saw many ups and downs, but Chicago seemed to find its stride during its play against UAA teams, who are among the best in the country.
A turning point for the Maroons came in a comeback win over NYU on October 31, which bolstered the South Siders to take down then-No. 3 Brandeis at home just two days later, moving the Maroons into first place in the UAA. A road win over Wash U the following weekend gave Chicago the UAA title, a cause for celebration for the team, but particularly for Maroon fourth-years.
“It was a great season with a very special group of guys,” Kurfirst said. “We won a conference title and found success that this program hasn’t seen in a long time. I think we have set a new standard for this program, and I am excited to see how far the younger guys can carry the program in the years to come.”
This special team had talent playing at every position, as seen by its seven All–UAA selections.
Desai and Weis were selected for the all-conference First Team. Desai led Chicago with nine goals this season, and Weis led the defense, along with assisting on three goals.
Kurfirst, third-year midfielder Jorge Bilbao, and first-year goalkeeper Hill Bonin were selected for Second Team All–UAA. Kurfirst, with seven goals, provided a burst on the offensive end. Bilbao anchored an admirable squad of midfielders, while scoring three goals, and Bonin impressed all, giving up only 0.74 goals per game and saving 84 percent of shots. He was also awarded UAA Rookie of the Year.
Fourth-year midfielder Michael Choquette and first-year defender Stacey Reimann were selected for All–UAA honorable mention.
Head coach Mike Babst and his staff were also selected as UAA Coaching Staff of the Year.
“This has been an amazing season,” Weis said. “Our work has given us great success and better camaraderie. The words [the fourth-years] said to us after the game meant the world to me, and they have offered a great legacy and model for this program to follow in the future.”
Although Chicago loses some key pieces from this year’s UAA title team, its returning roster has a chance to repeat as champs and go even further in the NCAA ournament.