Summit League Tournament: Previewing the Competition

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Phil Brown
OPINION EDITOR

After a brilliant start to their 2015 season, the Maverick men’s soccer team has struggled to find their footing of late.

Regardless of how the season ends, it will have been a truly remarkable season for the Mavericks, who defeated their first ever ranked opponent back in September, and enjoyed a brief stint in the national rankings themselves. They also held the nationwide record for longest winning streak until mid-October. But the positive results have dwindled in recent weeks for the Mavs.

A punishing schedule that has them playing many games with a break of only two or three games between matches has worn down the squad. They have only been able to win two out of their last nine matches, and have failed to replicate last season’s success of winning a share of the conference title.

The Mavs will head to Eastern Illinois to finish off the season at the end of this week, blessed with a full week of preparation for the first time since the Denver match on Oct. 17th.

The extra time to rest will hopefully improve Omaha’s chances. While the Mavs excel statistically in many categories, they have been quite wasteful with possession and chances on goal, a malaise that seems to be worsened with fatigue.

The team leads the league in shots, but have been unable to translate that into results in the league.

After that, it’s the conference championship tournament, where the Mavs will have one last chance to redeem a season that has disappointed its initial promising start. Held November 12-14, the tournament is hosted by current pack leaders Denver, and will pit all seven Summit League teams against each other in one last dash for the coveted NCAA tournament spot.

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The Denver Pioneers have been the team to beat in Summit League soccer ever since they joined the conference in 2013, a year after the Mavericks. True to form, they again have claimed the conference regular season title without losing a single game, and retain a top-ten ranking in most national soccer polls. They are undoubtedly the favorites to win the tournament and clinch that precious NCAA tournament berth.

Reagan Dunk is the player to watch for the Pioneers, having been labelled the best player in the league and top-25 in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer, and leading a defense that has only allowed 7 goals this season. Dunk helped to secure his team’s conference title last weekend against Eastern Illinois by assisting that match’s only goal, a Summit League best eighth assist. He did the same against Omaha when the team visited Denver earlier last month, winning a game that had seen 101 minutes without a score.

The team sitting closest to Omaha in the conference rankings, the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles have two games remaining on their regular-season slate, so their position over the Mavs could end up changing. Omaha has the head-to-head edge, having beaten the Eagles 2-1 on Oct. 24th.

The Golden Eagles, with a record of 3-2-0, have a nearly identical record to last season’s 3-2-1. The team’s player to watch is the Mexico City-born forward Matthew Rodgers, who’s listed as one of the league’s best players by Top Drawer Soccer, and who currently leads the team with six goals, a figure that ties him with Omaha’s Logan Mendez for second-most goals in the conference.
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Western Illinois is facing their own disappointing season, having lost 10 games overall so far, and failing to achieve last season’s conference record of 3-2-1. The team’s only away win was the one that spoiled Omaha’s then-record home win-ning streak back on Oct. 10th, a
2-1 victory.

The team boasts the Summit League leading goalscorer, however, in freshman Drew Whalen, a breakout star whose nine goals and two game winning goals leads the league in both categories. Whalen nearly single-handedly beat Omaha in their fateful match-up scoring both goals for Western Illinois, one unassisted. While the team leads the conference in goals, their defensive struggles have been their undoing.

Holding a nearly identical (5-10-0, 2-3-0) record to Western Illinois, Fort Wayne shares the productive offense and sieve-like defense of their conference twins. The differ-ence is that when Fort Wayne loses, they lose spectacularly, losing by three goals three times this season.

One of the more memorable wins for Omaha came at Fort Wayne’s expense, in a spectacular 3-0 beat-down at Caniglia Field in early October. And without the individual quality of Western Illinois, it’s difficult to foresee Fort Wayne making a mark on the tournament.

Fort Wayne’s sister school in Indianapolis, IUPUI sits right below them in the conference table. While Fort Wayne has managed to eke out a few wins, Indianapolis has only managed one win this season, and it came at the expense of Fort Wayne in an impressive 3-0 effort. While IUPUI’s offense is nearly nonexistent, they have a defense that is capable of grinding down even the toughest teams, memorably drawing Omaha in late September and ending Denver’s home streak with a 1-1 scoreline the following week.

With the exception of a 4-0 thrashing at Indiana, IUPUI’s losses have all been manageable, tight games. For this reason, the scrappy IUPUI has the ability to outlast their Fort Wayne neighbors in the tournament, and with a dash of luck, could find themselves in one of the top spots.

There aren’t many positive things to say about the 2015 Eastern Illinois soccer team. With 12 losses, they have somehow managed to lose less games than last season’s 13. But with two left to play for the Panthers, including Omaha, it’s doubtful they’ll be able to boast even that when all’s said and done.

The worst in the league in Goals Allowed and Goals Allowed average, the Panthers’ defense is miserable. Losing by an incredible 8 goals to Xavier in the season’s very first game, their absolutely ineffectual defense allowed 6 versus conference rivals Western Illinois.

But their offense is almost worse. The Panthers scored only 12 goals over the course of the season, under half of Omaha’s output, and only three goals more than Western Illinois’ leading goalscorer. Comprehen-sively the worst team in the league, and perhaps in the nation, it would be a miracle if Eastern Illinois won a single game in the conference tournament.

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