The St. Olaf Men’s Soccer team recently qualified for the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year in a row. After coming off of a sweet 16 visit at the NCAA tournament last year, and with many returners that came back for this season, there was no doubt that the soccer team was going to have another impressive season.
There are two ways to get into the NCAA tournament: 1. win the MIAC conference tournament or 2. get a bid based off of the success during the season. After the regular season, St. Olaf was set to play Gustavus in the MIAC championship game. This was going to be a challenging game to play, as St. Olaf lost to Gustavus in regular season play 2-1. But the Oles ended up winning the MIAC conference tournament with a 2-1 win over No. 5 nationally ranked Gustavus. It was a close game, and both teams battled to the end until first year Robert Buzakovic netted a goal past Gustavus’ goalie in the 89th minute of the game. Although it was likely that St. Olaf would’ve gotten bids to play in the tournament anyway, this win secured St Olaf’s spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Oles were set to play Lake Forest in the first round of the tournament at North Central College. The Oles easily flew past them with an 8-1 win, with four of their goals being netted in the first twenty minutes.
Moving on to the round of 32, the Oles played their next game only one day after against No. 10 nationally ranked North Central College. This matchup was going to be a challenging one since it was a home game for North Central, who was on a 30-game unbeaten streak at home. Junior captain Hakeem Morgan ’24 explained, “as a team we came into the game with the mentality of taking advantage of the opportunity, go out there, have fun, and play with confidence. We knew North Central was a really good team and we had to bring our competitiveness and quality on the ball to get the win and advance.”
With this mentality, the Oles came into the game and made North Central’s defense struggle. But unfortunately, the Oles fell behind North Central in the 15th minute. The Oles remained scoreless for the remainder of the first half. Luckily, the halftime talk by coach Travis Wall inspired many of the players. Sophomore captain Shea Bechtel ’25 said, “the main aura in the locker room at halftime was summed up well by coach Wall when he said, “our season is not going to end tonight”. Having been in a situation where we were down at halftime and came back and won gave us confidence in our ability to complete the comeback again.”
The Oles came out hot during the second half. Bechtel scored in the 52nd minute and the Oles kept most of the possession. Bechtel’s goal forced the game to go into overtime.
In overtime, the teams have to play two ten minute halves all the way through in order to determine the winner. If, by the end of overtime there is still a tie, the teams would go into penalty kicks. Luckily, Morgan had a different plan. Morgan shot the ball into the lower right corner past the North Central goalie resulting in a goal for St. Olaf in the 96th minute. Morgan’s goal ended up being the game winner. He said, “After we scored our first goal you could feel the confidence boost. I would say there was never a belief we would go into PKs because we knew that we would eventually have another chance to score given how much we were attacking.”
Bechtel added, “Whether it was in regulation or overtime, we felt as though we were going to walk away with the win”. This competitive mindset won the Oles the game 2-1, and allowed them to move on to the sweet sixteen for the second consecutive year.
Now, remember the Gustavus team I mentioned before that St. Olaf has had to play twice in highly competitive games? Yeah, they’re back. In the round of 16, St. Olaf is set to play Gustavus (who got into the tournament off a bid) for the third time this season at the University of Chicago on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 1:30 pm. This will be a competitive game, and there’s no doubt that the Gusties have a sour taste in their mouths from losing to St. Olaf in the MIAC championship game. But the Oles are ready, according to Bectal, who said, “it is going to be a very tough game mentally and physically, but having played them twice (losing and then winning), we feel as though we are prepared to play another strong side Saturday.”
“We have played a difficult schedule and went into each game with the belief we can win, and that does not change moving forward to Gustavus on Saturday,” Bechtel said.
The winner of this matchup will play in the elite eight on Sunday at 1:00pm at the University of Chicago versus the winner of U Chicago and St. Thomas (Tex.). Congratulations to the St. Olaf Men’s Soccer Team for having an impressive season and continuing to dance on!