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November 30, 2011

Men's Semifinal 2 Preview

Other Semifinal Previews:  Semifinal 1 Women's:  Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2

By Christan Shirk

NCAA Division III Men's Soccer - National Semifinal

Friday, December 2 — 5:30 pm CT

Calvin (18-5-2)


Oneonta St. (18-2-2)

How they reached the Final Four

Calvin: Pool C at-large berth | 1st Rnd: W1-0 Carthage | 2nd Rnd: W4-0 Loras | Sweet 16: T1-1 (2ot)(5-3 pk's) Redlands | Elite 8: W3-2 (2ot) Texas-Tyler

Oneonta St.: AQ - SUNYAC Champions | 1st Rnd: W2-1 Baldwin-Wallace | 2nd Rnd: W4-0 PSU-Behrend | Sweet 16: W2-1 (2ot) St. Lawrence | Elite 8: W2-1 (2ot) Rutgers-Camden

2011 Statistical Overview

Calvin: 18-5-2 (.760) | 2.10 GSA, 0.74 GAA (+1.36) | Avg. OWP: .561 | Last Ten: 7-2-1

Oneonta St.: 18-2-2 (.864) | 2.40 GSA, 0.80 GAA (+1.60) | Avg. OWP: .583 | Last Ten: 10-0-0

Calvin Season Review

Expectations are higher then they once were for Calvin after an Elite 8 run last year and a runner-up finish in 2009, but the loss of 5 starters to graduation was going to make it a challenge to sustain that success. Actually, due to injuries in 2010, only three starters from the line-up used in the post-season needed to be replaced. The back line had all four stretch-run starters back led by the heralded duo of seniors Justin Ahearne and Miles Colago. That was helpful for integrating a new goalkeeper and the defense has posted similar numbers again this season, even if slightly poorer which is partially explained by the three goals conceded in both early season losses to Rochester and Dominican.

The biggest shoes to fill were in midfield but the Knights got a great rookie campaign from Dino Duratovic (5g, 8a) and increased influence from Chris Nance (7g, 6a) to go along side an ever more dependable Nick Holtrop. All look set for a pair of returning seniors to lead the front line, but sophomore Zach Willis, initially as a substitute, emerged as the go-to guy with a breakout season of 14 goals and 10 assists while freshman Travis Vegter (3g, 4a) proved an effective option of the bench. All told, team scoring is up from the 1.79 clip in 2010 to 2.10. The pair of 1-0 losses to Olivet at the end of the season were disappointing and the second, in the MIAA semifinals, cost them a shot at the MIAA’s automatic berth. However, their resume was good enough for a Pool C at-large selection and a fifth straight trip to the NCAA's.

They edged Carthage in the first round and then they sounded set to rest any doubts about the potential of this 5-loss team when they dumped the favored Loras Duhawks from the tournament on their home turf by a 4-0 count. Into the Sweet 16 with a trip to California, 2011 was shaping up as another tournament runs that exceeded reasonable expectations based on the regular season, just like in 2009 and 2010. In Sectionals they first had to battle hosts Redlands and got the dream start with a goal 24 seconds off a Redlands miscue in the back. Otherwise, it was an even first half and soon after the break the scored also was even when Redlands converted a penalty kick. Neither side could capitalize on a number of good chances and the game went to overtime with Calvin the more dangerous throughout but unable to net the game-winner. They did know how to convert from the spot, being perfect for the shootout win. In the sectional final Texas-Tyler would have the upper hand for much of the first half hour, but a bicycle kick would give Calvin the game’s first tally which the Patriots deservedly cancelled out minutes later for a 1-1 halftime score. Calvin was being outplayed after the break and went down 2-1 in the 66th minute and went down to 10 men in the 83rd minute due to a red card ejection. Galvanized by their dire situation, Calvin actually seemed to play better and sent both teams to their second overtime in as many days when they punched one in off a scramble in front of goal. Calvin might have played their best soccer in overtime and when a volleyed shot off a corner kick found the back of net early in the second extra session, they were off for San Antonio.

Oneonta St. Season Review

Oneonta St. largely flew under the radar for most of the season despite playing both St. Lawrence (L2-3) and Christopher Newport (T1-1) tough in the early going and then being top of the SUNYAC from start to finish. The former Division I program was still looking for their first SUNYAC title and first Division III tournament appearance. With only two starters lost from the 2010 squand that nearly did win the conference (they were regular season leaders), it was reasonable to think 2011 would be the year they got over the hump as they trotted out an opening day starting line-up made entirely of juniors and seniors. However, their rather low 1.37 goal scoring average fron 2010 would need to improve and the return of a healthy and in-form junior forward Eric Fortier after an injury-marred 2010 did the trick. His team-leading 12 goals combined with 11 from junior forward Daniel Josepher who continued to excel in the super-sub role taking the pressure off senior midfielder and team leader Jonathan Kowalski to carry the goal-scoring burden as in 2010.

While the team scoring jumped to 2.48 GSA, the Oneonta defense has posted a satisfactory 0.80 GAA but one that won't win them games. Through 22 games they have just 7 shutouts, but have limited the times they have conceded more than a single goal to three games which with an offense scoring at two and a half goals on average will usually result in wins. With their much improved average goal difference (+1.69) they would go undefeated in SUNYAC action, including the playoffs to claim their first SUNYAC championship. Especially impressive was how they man-handled Plattsburgh St. 5-0 in the regular season and then in the re-match in conference semifinals they reversed a two-goal deficit with four unanswered goals for the 4-2 win. Freshman midfielder Justin Rivera (5g, 4a), who worked his way into the starting line-up by season's end, came up big with the go-ahead goal in the conference semifinal and the lone goal in the conference final.

They carried a 10-game win streak into their first Division III tournament appearance, which would be at home hosting their regional. It was not a dream start when they conceded a free kick goal to Baldwin-Wallace before 5 minutes had ticked off the clock, but it wasn't long until they found their feet and grabbed the upper hand resulting in a pair of goals in the latter quarter hour of the half. They protected the 2-1 lead in an even second half for the win. Oneonta St. swept past PSU-Behrend 4-0 on their way to sectionals and a re-match with St. Lawrence. The top seeded and undefeated Saints created the better chances in a scoreless first half, before the game opened up more in the second stanza. The Red Dragons broke the deadlock to take a precious 1-0 lead with under 17 minutes to play, but it was a short-lived advantage as Saint's playmaker Sam DeMello nodded home a cross minutes later with the hosts twice almost grabbing the game-winner in the closing minutes. But Oneonta would get the momentum back in overtime and as the second extra session clicked down below 4 minutes, a deflection off a Saint’s defender fell to the freshman Rivera who turned and fired home from the top of the box for the win. They faced Rutgers-Camden in the sectional final and kept the typically efficient and opportunistic side from a single shot on goal in the opening half while they tested the Camden keeper with 5 shots on target. But the NJAC champions surprised the Red Dragons in the 53rd minute with a well-taken shot for a gritty 1-0 lead, but Oneonta, who continued to have the upper hand though most of the second half, got the deserved equalizer 13 minutes from time. The majority of the chances were theirs the rest of the way, but it was only in the 107th minute of the second overtime period that they were able to book a place in San Antonio.

Head Coaches


Chris Hughes, 10th year (2002-2011)

Overall: 153-47-22 (.739)

NCAA's (7 of 10 yrs.): 9-5-6 (.600), Runner-Up - 2009, Elite 8 - 2010, Sweet 16 - 2005

Chris Hughes took a program that hadn't made the NCAA tournament in ten years and quickly turned it into a preennial tournament participant. He led them into the NCAA's in his third season and they have only missed out once since. In 2005, his fourth in charge, they upset unbeaten Ohio Wesleyan to reach the Sweet 16 where they were eliminated on penalty kicks. He would guide the team to new heights in 2009 with a run to the title game, losing to Messiah. He seems to get more out of his squads once tournament time rolls around and in 2010 they made an unexpected run to the Elite 8.

Oneonta St.

Iain Byrne, 9th year (2003-2011)

Overall: 105-48-22 (.663)

NCAA's (1 of 4 yrs. since becoming eligible): 4-0-0 (1.000)

Iain Byrne has guided the Oneonta program through the transition from Division I to Division III, adapting quickly to the new landscape. The transition began in 2006, with their SUNYAC debut in 2007, and eligiblity for post-season play starting in 2008. From a 16-2-2 record in that first D-III season, his record declined to 2008's 10-7-2 as the D-I players who hung around graduated. But he was re-building with D-III recruits and in just five seasons had a regualr season champion and now in season six a conference title and run to the national Final Four.

Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 20)

Calvin: 67-18-11 (.755) overall | NCAA's ('08-'09-'10-'11): 7-3-5, Elite 8 - 2010, Runner-Up - 2009

Oneonta St.: 51-18-10 (.709) overall | NCAA's ('11): 4-0-0


Calvin: Given their championship final and Elite 8 runs the last two season, Calvin has plenty of tournament experience. In fact, with Messiah's early exit this year, Calvin has played more tournament games in the last three years than anyone. Four of this year's seniors played in Calvin's lone 2008 tournament match and if they advance to the final they will have played in as many tournament games as Messiah's seniors. Calvin has five 3-year starters, among them Miles Colago who also started about half the time as a freshman. Unfortunately Colago suffered an injury at the end of the regular season and has not been playing so it's not clear if and how much he can contribute. Moreover, another 3-year starter, Nick Holtrop, will miss the semifinal after picking up a red card in the quarterfinals. That reducing the experience edge they have over Oneonta.

Oneonta St.: Oneonta is primarily a team of juniors and seniors. The freshman Rivera has won a starting spot, but the rest of the line-up is not just juniors and seniors, but juniors and seniors who in large part have been starters for three or four years. While not having any tournament experience prior to this year, this team nevertheless is experienced and, perhaps equally important, most of the sqaud has been playing together for three years now. These players know each other extremely well and have shared the same journey to get Oneonta St. to this high point since joing Division III.


It is very hard to assign favorite status in this semifinal. Certainly the name recognition of Calvin after their runs to the final and the Elite 8 the past two years makes it easy to call them favorites over the lesser nationally-known Oneonta St. But that's a superficial labeling that may or may not be fair and accurate. If considering this season in isolation, Oneonta St. probably would be favored, but when considering the fuller context of the players' careers and prior experience, favored status probably best fits Calvin.

Calvin has shown a knack these last three years for surviving and advancing, finding ways to eliminate better, or at least higher ranked and seeded, opponents. And the result is deeper tournament runs than expected based on the regular season. Or at least based on the regular season when taken as a whole. In 2009 when they reached the final, they were playing like a title contender for five or so weeks before a rough and inconsistent patch that threatened to leave them out of the tournament. So that year, the potential had been on full display, but when they didn't maintain that level down the stretch they seemed a risky pick to go deep in the tournament. It's unclear if their tournament success is down to the players themselves rising to the occasion or a coach that is able to push the right buttons in November (we'll have to see how Calvin fairs after this group of seniors is gone), but we probably should not be surprised by Calvin anymore. Their penalty kick and double-overtime wins at sectionals are par for the course; they advanced on penalty kicks two times in both 2009 and 2010.

Oneonta St. has displayed some very Calvin-esque qualities in advancing to the Final Four. It was a 2-1 comeback win in the first round, and then two 2-1 double-overtime wins at sectionals. Some might have questioned the quality of the New York region (St. Lawrence had their doubters to the end) and the SUNYAC (Plattsburgh was disappointing), but the region acquitted itself fairly well in the tournament with SUNYAC no. 2, Brockport St., almost reaching the Sweet 16 when they took Stevens to penalty kicks after a scoreless draw. St. Lawrence, of course, was one of Oneonta's overtime victims, and Stevens went on to the Elite 8, losing narrowly to semifinalist Montclair St.

Oneonta isn't going to win on their defense alone and their attack isn't going to dominate good tournament teams, but the full package is a pretty decent one. And the togetherness of the squad is not an insignificant factor as their upperclassmen have played and started together for basically three years now. It's now 14 straight wins for the Red Dragons and at some point that can't be considered a fluke anymore even if you want to discount how they scored twice in a 3-2 loss to a stingy St. Lawrence opening weekend and how they tied-up Christopher Newport two weekends later. This team isn't world-beaters, but they are for real.

Calvin surprised many people with their 4-0 spanking of Loras in the second round. While the game wasn't as lopsided as the scoreboard, it showed Calvin's ability to adjust their game in the face of an opponent that could probably out-gun them if they played them straight up. Changing to an absorb-and-counter-attack approach won't be necessary against Oneonta St., but it illustrates the coach's and team's flexibility, a trait that could be useful in responding to changing game situations or when missing players.  Speaking of which, the availability of star defender Miles Colago for Calvin is not known, but 1st Team All-MIAA midfielder Nick Holtrop is suspended following the red card he received in the quarterfinals. That obviously is a loss for the Knights and increases the challenge to get back to the title game. Calvin does have a pretty deep bench, usually using five to seven substitutes in competitive games. Oneonta St. has made similar use of their bench, going four to six deep in the tournament.

Both have varied attacks with multiple weapons.  Calvin has four players who have scored five or more goals, but just Zach Willis in double digits with 14. Both Vegter bothers are threats off the bench. Oneonta probably has an even more balanced offense with five players who have scored five times or more lead by Fortier (12) and Josepher (11), the latter doing so off the bench. The exact difference in goal scoring averages for the two teams, which favors Oneonta 2.40 to 2.10, won't matter, but the number of potential weapons could prove the difference. That favors Oneonta St. and all the more so with the exclusion of Holtrop for Calvin.  Additionally, Oneonta can probaly afford to give Willis extra attention more than Calvin can afford to do the same with Fortier. Both teams have defenders who can chip in with the occasional goal. It's interesting to note that very few players listed as defenders on Oneonta's roster get playing time which suggests that some midfielders have been converted to defenders, which probably comes with pluses and minuses.

In the final analysis this is a pick 'em type of game. Calvin might have a slight edge defensively, Oneonta the edge in offense. Calvin does have more tournament experience, but they also will need to deal with the absence of Holtrop and maybe Colago.  A very competitive match decided by a single goal if not penalty kicks would not be unexpected.  Anything more than 2-1 scoreline would be more goal-scoring than expected, although if any side was going to break this game open it would probably be Calvin given what they accomplished against Loras.

Other Semifinal Previews:  Semifinal 1 Women's:  Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2

Comments or feedback for the author?  E-mail Christan Shirk.

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