Oles stunned, eliminated from playoffs

Last season was a dream come true for St. Olaf men’s soccer. After dropping four of their first five matches of the season, the Oles clawed their way back into the playoff picture thanks to four consecutive victories in late September, finishing 6-3-1 in conference, only defeated by other playoff qualifiers Macalester, St. John’s and St. Thomas. As the fourth seed, St. Olaf downed Hamline in a nailbiting 1-0 contest, proceeding into the conference semifinals where they shocked second seed St. John’s with another suspenseful 1-0 victory. The Oles’ magnificent string of success continued in the conference championship, where they emphatically overcame St. Thomas in an emotional 2-0 win that netted St. Olaf its first MIAC championship since 2011. The Oles rode their hot streak all the way to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, where they eventually ran out of steam in a tough 2-1 loss against Wheaton, ending a miraculous and inspiring Cinderella story.

Men’s soccer will experience no such triumph this season. After being poised to return to the playoffs to defend their title, the Oles surrendered three critical losses to conference rivals Carleton, Augsburg and St. John’s during the final week of conference play. All three teams leapfrogged St. Olaf in the standings at the worst possible time, moving on to the postseason while the Oles, shocked and heartbroken, were eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in four years.

Dropping matches to crosstown rival Carleton 2-0 and fellow playoff hopeful Augsburg 2-1 came as a significant surprise, but the Oles remained in control heading into their season finale against St. John’s on Oct. 29 at Rolf Mellby Field. Sitting at at 3-2-4 in the MIAC, St. Olaf only needed to win to clinch a playoff spot. St. John’s faced a similar scenario – at 4-4-1, a win meant advancing. In the event of a loss, the Oles could still advance should Augsburg falter in its final match, a likely outcome considering its opponent was undefeated St. Thomas.

Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened – Augsburg handed the Tommies their only loss of the year, putting the pressure on both St. Olaf and St. John’s. Losing the contest would mean elimination for either team.

The scales were already tipped in the Johnnies’ favor prior to the opening whistle. The Oles had scored only twice in their past four conference matches, an offensive drought that made the matchup against St. John’s already stifling defense considerably more unfavorable. The Johnnies are currently second in the MIAC with 101 saves, and the Oles entered the contest with 20 total goals all season, ranking second to last in the conference. The odds held an ominous forecast for St. Olaf’s playoff hopes.

Ultimately, those statistics proved telling – the Oles only managed two shots on goal, and neither of them was converted into a score. In comparison, St. John’s was impressively efficient, launching three of its five scoring attempts into the net on their way to a 3-0 victory in addition to a playoff berth. Augsburg’s upset win over the Tommies meant all the dominos had fallen unfavorably for St. Olaf, bringing its season to an abrupt and bitter end.

This marks the end of an era for the Oles as they say goodbye to veteran leaders such as midfielder Aaron Miller ’17, who led the team with five goals and 45 shots, and goalkeeper Ben Braman ’17, who finished with an average of 0.99 goals allowed per game. The 17 returning members of the team, led by new starting goalkeeper Randall Rude ’18 and 10 other incoming seniors, will look to avenge their stunning loss and get back to the postseason next fall, when hopefully their misfortunes are reversed.