Men’s soccer wins Summit League Title

Photo by Dayna Berry

Jack Hoover

Emmanuel Hamzat had been in this position before.

The Omaha Maverick striker stood on the penalty spot at the south end of Canigila Field, where not even 10 minutes before, he had converted a spot kick.

Now, he was back for a second go. With this kick, he had a chance to put Omaha soccer in a position it had never been before.

Hamzat wasn’t going to miss this.

He placed the ensuing kick low into the bottom right corner of the goal and with that, the game was won.

Hamzat, along with the rest of his team and the Omaha fans, erupted into celebration. The Mavericks were going to the NCAA Soccer Tournament for the first time ever. History had been made.

The Summit League Championship match on Saturday between the Denver Pioneers and Omaha Mavericks was one for the record books.

The two opponents were familiar foes. The game was a rematch of the last Summit League Championship, which the Pioneers won on a last second goal, giving Denver their fourth consecutive title.

In the only meeting of the current season, the Pioneers had tied the game with the Mavericks at 1-1 with another last second goal. Denver would go on to score a penalty in overtime and win the game.

Going into Saturday’s game, Omaha was hopeful to avoid this fate a third time.

Denver seemed to deflate this hope early on in the match, however.

In the 26th minute, Denver defender Scott Devos took advantage of a free kick into the box and used his head to put his side up 1-0. It was a less than ideal start for the Mavericks.

However, the response to that goal was more than ideal. Not even two minutes later, a foul on Hamzat led to an Omaha penalty kick. Omaha midfielder Xavier Gomez stepped up to take the kick, and in the 28th minute, the game was tied 1-1.

There would be little to separate the two side for the rest of the game. Both sides would trade chances, but few great goal-scoring opportunities were to be found.

The game was entertaining nonetheless, and after 90 minutes of play, there was still no winner. Fortunately, Denver didn’t get a last-second goal this time. Overtime would be required for these two teams.

But that wouldn’t do the trick either.

It seemed like both teams were trying to give the fans as much soccer to watch as possible. The teams and fans would have to wait a little longer as the game was to be decided in penalties.

What followed was the longest shootout in Summit League history. Fans anxiously watched while 22 kicks were taken and 17 were scored.

On two occasions, Omaha had a chance to win the match with a made penalty after Denver failed to convert. Both chances were saved by Denver keeper, Will Palmquist, who played zero minutes in the game, but was brought in for the shootout.

It wasn’t until Omaha had their third chance to win the game that Hamzat stood up and converted his penalty to finally end the marathon shootout.

“For us to be down four different times in the shootout and keep our composure and win shows how resilient our program is,” said Omaha Head Coach Jason Mims.

The resiliency of the program is now leading Omaha into uncharted territory.

After the game, the fans went on the field and joined the celebrations with the rest of the team. All the losses to Denver and the other close losses this season were forgotten about. All that mattered to the fans was that Omaha was going to the national tournament.

For the team and the fans, there is still work to be done, of course. The Mavericks will be given an opponent on Monday at noon during the NCAA selection show and will have to prepare immediately to play them.

Omaha certainly has no desire to show up for one game and go home. These Mavericks are more than capable of making a deep run in the tournament. They will be eager to prove that their top 10 ranking earlier in the year was no fluke and that they can compete against the best.

In the meantime, the team can rest easy knowing that they’re safely in the tournament.

The Summit League championship victory will likely be remembered for some time. This season, as a whole, was quite memorable and was perhaps the best in program history and with the NCAA tournament coming up, it can get even better.