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November 17, 2011

Men's Sectional Previews: North Central


By Christan Shirk


at Ohio Wesleyan (Delaware, OH)

Sectional Webpage

Friday/Saturday, Nov. 18-19

Third Round - Friday, Nov. 18

Hope (17-4-3) vs. Luther (17-3-2), 5:00 pm ET

Ohio Northern (20-2-2) at Ohio Wesleyan (19-2-0), 7:30 pm ET

Quarterfinals - Saturday, Nov. 19

Sectional Final, 6:00 pm ET

How they reached the Sweet 16

Ohio Wesleyan: Pool C at-large berth | 1st Rnd: Bye | 2nd Rnd: W1-0 Washington U.

Ohio Northern: OAC Automatic Berth (AQ) | 1st Rnd: W2-0 Rose-Hulman | 2nd Rnd: W2-0 Case Western

Luther: Pool C at-large berth | 1st Rnd: W4-1 North Park | 2nd Rnd: W1-0 St. Olaf

Hope: MIAA Automatic Berth (AQ) | 1st Rnd: W2-1 Thomas More | 2nd Rnd: W2-1 Dominican

2011 Statistical Overview

Ohio Wesleyan: 19-2-0 (.905) | 3.14 GSA, 0.90 GAA (+2.24) | Avg. OWP: .578 | Last Ten: 9-1-0

Ohio Northern: 20-2-2 (.875) | 2.81 GSA, 0.65 GAA (+2.16) | Avg. OWP: .537 | Last Ten: 10-0-0

Luther: 17-3-2 (.818) | 1.93 GSA, 0.31 GAA (+1.62) | Avg. OWP: .543 | Last Ten: 8-1-1

Hope: 17-4-3 (.771) | 2.09 GSA, 0.64 GAA (+1.45) | Avg. OWP: .563 | Last Ten: 9-1-0

Ohio Wesleyan Season Review

Ohio Wesleyan had an 18-game winning streak sandwiched by a season-opening loss to Messiah and a conference final loss to DePauw, and in both those games against tournament-bound teams they were the better team, undone by some defensive miscues. As a result, they have been ranked in the Top 5 all season, and the Bishops avoided the curse of the first-round bye that victimized the this year’s other two recipients when they defeated Washington U. 1-0 to reach the Sweet 16. Their win streak included wins over tournament teams DePauw, Case Western Reserve, and Ohio Northern who they now face for a spot in the Elite 8. Ohio Wesleyan’s weakness is defense and goalkeeping reflected in several noteworthy trends that are not typical of championship caliber teams: (a) unimpressive 0.90 GAA; (b) have conceded the first goal in five games, three times in the opening five minutes; (c) in seven games have conceded a goal in the final quarter hour; and (d) four times have conceded the next goal after opening a 2-0 lead. But their attack is potent, led by senior forward and Player of the Year candidate Travis Wall (15g 14a) with help from two other seniors: forward Tyler Bryant (13g, 2a) and midfielder Dylan Stone (9g, 5 a).

Ohio Northern Season Review

Ohio Northern had a strong opening two weeks to the season before a difficult and inconsistent three-week stretch in which the Polar Bears went 4-2-2 conceding 13 goals to 16 scored and being taken to overtime three times. Their defense was leaking goals and in three games they were scored on three times. Granted, this occurred in their toughest non-conference games (L0-3 Transylvania, L1-3 Ohio Wesleyan, W4-3ot Thomas More), but isn’t what one expects from a Top 25 team. They righted the ship, however, apparently sorting things out defensively and finished with 10 straight wins, eight by shutout, to claim the OAC championship. They have added two more wins and shutouts in tournament play, although they were fortunate to beat Case Western 2-0 in the second round, having conceded 18 shots, 8 on frame. Junior forward Nate Bascom has taken his game to a new level this season (16g 9a) making the three-headed attack with junior midfielder Cameron Johnson (13g, 5a) and senior forward Christian Huelsman (10g 9a) stronger than ever.

Luther Season Review

After their success in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, including a run to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2001, Luther fell on hard times in the mid-2000’s and Luther’s excellent season came as somewhat of a surprise after five straight losing seasons. Coach Chris Garcia-Prats, a two-time captain (2000-01) and former assistant coach (2003-07) at Trinity (Tx.), is in his fourth season at the helm in Decorah, Iowa and all the pieces have come together with a squad entirely of his own making, including a starting line-up that contains five seniors that were part of his first recruiting class. Defense is the cornerstone of their success with a nation’s best 0.31 GAA. The back four is made up of two seniors and two juniors, but the star of the show is senior goalkeeper Steve O’Meara who leads the nation in save percentage (.921) and is second in GAA (0.32). His ten saves were huge in Luther defeating Loras en route to the IIAC Championship. Their Norse attack is young with a freshman-sophomore forward pair and a sophomore playmaker, the coach’s younger brother James Garcia-Prats (7g, 7a). To reach the Sweet 16, Luther avenged one of their regular season losses when they reversed the 1-0 score on St. Olaf in their re-match in the tournament’s second round.

Hope Season Review

Hope was just 4-3-3 at the close of September and it seemed that Trine and Olivet were on their way to breaking up the Calvin-Hope domination of the MIAA. October changed that outlook as Calvin moved to the top of the standings with Hope in pursuit, but the Dutchmen’s lone loss of the month was against their rivals which ultimately was decisive in determining the conference championship. Whether their 13-4-3 record at that point would have been sufficient to garner a Pool C at-large berth is questionable, but the MIAA was holding a post-season tournament for the first time ever with the conference’s automatic berth, but not the championship, on the line. In the semifinals, a second 1-0 Olivet defeat of Calvin in a week eliminated the lone conference foe who Hope had not beaten in the regular season and they claimed their spot in the NCAA’s with solid wins over Trine and Olivet. Nevertheless, not much was expected from the Dutchmen in the tournament by most outsiders who hadn’t noted their nine shutouts in the previous twelve games. Dominican, the top seed and host of their regional pod, was the favorite to advance to the Sweet 16 despite their struggles in conference play throughout October suggesting they were vulnerable. It was an even battle between the two sides in the second round with Hope just nabbing the win on a goal directly off a corner kick 19 seconds from time. Their defense since September (0.35 GAA) is among the best in the nation and comparable to their third round opponent Luther.

Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 13)

Ohio Wesleyan: 74-11-5 (.850) overall | NCAA's ('08-'09-'10-'11): 6-3-0, Sweet 16 - 2008, Elite 8 - 2010

Ohio Northern: 72-16-8 (.792) overall | NCAA's ('08-'09-'10-'11): 5-2-1, Elite 8 - 2008

Luther: 40-31-7 (.558) overall | NCAA's ('11): 2-0-0

Hope: 57-16-12 (.741) overall | NCAA's ('10-'11): 2-1-0

Tournament Experience

Ohio Wesleyan and Ohio Northern have qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the last four years, so their seniors have more tournament experience than those of Hope and Luther. Hope missed the 2008 and 2009 tournaments and went one-and-out last year. Luther hasn’t participated in the NCAA tournament since 2002, so their squad has no prior experience. Ohio Northern only lasted one game in 2009 and 2010, but in 2008 they reached the Elite 8 after knocking off the higher seeded Wheaton (Ill.) in the first round. This year’s senior may only have been freshmen at the time, but two of them started the whole season and by tournament time three more had established themselves in the starting eleven. Not only did the Polar Bears start five freshman in their 2008 run to the sectional final, but the freshmen—this year’s seniors—were responsible for six of the nine goals they scored.

Ohio Wesleyan is a perennial tournament team and one of the most successful Division III programs of all-time. Credit coach Jay Martin who eclipsed 600 career wins a few weeks ago, only the second men’s collegiate coach (all divisions) to reach that milestone. The other, legendary Coach Joe Bean (Wheaton-Ill.), retired with 607 wins and Martin could tied and break that record yet in this tournament as he stands at 604. His Battling Bishops almost reached the program’s eighth Final Four last year before falling victim to Lynchburg’s magical run at the last hurdle. Four starters from that squad graduated but the rest are back. They exited abruptly in 2009, but in 2008 they won a pair to reach the Sweet 16 with current seniors Wall and Matt Bofini featuring as freshmen starters.

Why they will advance to the Final Four

Ohio Wesleyan: It’s Ohio Wesleyan and their coach is Jay Martin—talk about pedigree. They won’t be out-coached and the players would love to give Coach Martin the all-time wins records jointly with his second national title. On top of that they have a great attack, a deep squad, a Player of the Year candidate, experienced senior leadership, and are playing at home.

Ohio Northern: They are the hottest team in the sectional, maybe in the tournament, with twelve straight wins, ten by shutout. The offense and defense are clicking since early October as they have outscored opponents 42 to 2 during that stretch. They have the attacking firepower to hang with Ohio Wesleyan (they were the only team that might have outplayed Ohio Wesleyan this year, despite the loss) and tightened things up in the back down the stretch (0.16 GAA since Oct. 5) to be able to go toe-to-toe with the Luther or Hope in a defensive battle.

Luther: Reason one, two, and three: outstanding goalkeeper O’Meara. After all, defense wins championships and of the four teams in the section, their defense was the best and most consistent over the course of the season with no let down in the first two games of the tournament. Moreover, they had the toughest pair of regional games to reach sectionals and consistent with the regular season they limited their opponents to few quality chances even while conceding more possession and overall shots.

Hope: They will probably revel in their somewhat underdog status (and who wouldn’t want to do that in this year of upsets) and as a result might be able to play as loose as any team in the sectional. There’s got to be at least one surprise in the Final Four, right?, and Hope would fit the bill as much as anyone out of this group.


Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.

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