Bubbles begin to burst: No. 1 Messiah falls amidst a slew of PK shootouts
By Ryan Harmanis, D3sports.com
|Lycoming celebrate their
shootout win over Messiah on Wednesday night.
Lycoming College athletics
Conference tournaments can be unpredictable, as teams play year after year and now meet for a second (or even a third) time in a matter of days. The familiarity often leads to tight games and upsets, and this year is proving to be no different.
After No. 13 Wheaton (Ill.) survived on penalties and No. 20 Gordon became the first of the Top 25 to enter Pool C on Tuesday, teams were put on notice: win your conference tournament or put yourself at the mercy of the bubble and hope top-ranked teams avoid the upset bug.
Surprisingly, the biggest upset imaginable was looming on a day that saw three top-10 teams pushed to penalty kicks. Despite outshooting Lycoming 32-2, No. 1 Messiah (18-1-1) could not find the back of the net and the defending champions were eliminated in a shootout. With the Commonwealth Conference slated to be a one-bid league, Messiah’s loss guarantees the conference two NCAA participants and takes an unexpected Pool C bid off the board.
Just before Messiah fell, No. 2 Ohio Wesleyan finally got past No. 15 DePauw in the NCAC tournament, advancing after a rain-soaked 2–2 draw. Despite making only half of its six penalty kicks during the regular season, Ohio Wesleyan (18-0-3) drilled six in a row and will host Kenyon (14-3-3) on Saturday night for the NCAC’s automatic bid. DePauw (14-2-3) is squarely on the bubble, while the loser of Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon is a safe bet in Pool C.
Earlier in the day, No. 7 York came from two goals down in less than a minute to squeak by Christopher Newport in (you guessed it) a penalty shootout. The loss surely ends Christopher Newport’s post-season hopes, and will deprive the NCAA tournament of one of the most exciting players in Division III soccer in Christopher Newport’s Jalon Brown (14g, 9a). In the CAC championship against No. 9 Salisbury (17-2-0), York (16-2-1) will seek to avenge its only conference loss, with both teams NCAA-bound regardless of the outcome.
In the NJAC, No. 2 Rutgers-Camden (18-0-2) cruised to the title game with a 4-1 win over TCNJ, while No. 8 Montclair State (15-3-2) was shell-shocked at home by three quick goals in the second half of a 4-1 loss to Rutgers-Newark (17-4-1). The NJAC now looks set for three NCAA bids, with Montclair and Camden as locks and Newark rising fast. Look for an exhilarating NJAC final, as it will mark the first time in any sport that the two Rutgers schools will face off for a conference championship.
Zane Heinselman came up big scoring twice for St.
John's in the MIAC semifinals.
Elsewhere, No. 6 Loras (16-1-2) took care of Simpson 1-0 and will look to avenge its only loss of the season against No. 24 Wartburg (15-3-2) in the IIAC title game. The rest of the Top 25 took care of business on Wednesday with the exception of No. 21 Gustavus Adolphus, whose surprising 2-1 loss to St. John’s places them in the Pool C mix.
This year is shaping up to have one of the toughest bubbles in recent memory. Messiah and Montclair are at-large locks, while Gordon and Gustavus Adolphus are strongly positioned in Pool C as well. Add in the CCIW, UAA and NJAC as 3-bid (or more) leagues and the CAC, Centennial, IIAC, NCAC and NESCAC as (at least) 2-bid leagues, and we arrive at 15 Pool C berths very quickly.
The only real comfort for bubble teams is that many of these conference championships feature two teams that are already positioned for NCAA berths. This makes it less likely that a team will come out of nowhere to snag an automatic bid when it had no chance of an at-large berth. With that in mind, be on the lookout for a full breakdown of the bubble later this week, and continue to enjoy the best part of the college soccer season.