November 18, 2013

The Anatomy of an upset: Rose-Hulman downs #1 Ohio Wesleyan

By Ryan Harmanis, D3soccer.com

Rose-Hulman celebrates their goal against Ohio Wesleyan on Sunday.
RHIT athletics photo

Upsets. One of the great aspects of sports is the potential for surprise: the amazing play, the “you just had to be there” game, and above all, the upset. Upsets draw attention because, as the saying goes, “everyone loves an underdog” (except, of course, those on the receiving end). Regardless, upsets are a given. They are even more commonplace in soccer, where the low-scoring nature of the game makes the outcome more volatile and upsets more common.

To place an upset in context, we must first characterize its nature. One end of the spectrum is the “perception” upset: the perceived gap between favorite and underdog never really existed in the first place, and thus what we thought was an upset was simply a true reflection of reality. The other end of the spectrum is pure luck: the underdog rides a perfect storm of circumstance to a victory that would likely never repeat itself.

Most upsets fall somewhere in the middle, including Rose-Hulman's (12–5–5) shocking 1–0 upset over previously unbeaten and top-ranked Ohio Wesleyan (19-1-3). So, with the tournament’s biggest surprise as our backdrop, let’s examine the ingredients of an upset.

The History: While the teams were unfamiliar with one another, the history of the situation was a common one. Rose-Hulman hails from the HCAC, home to 2009 Elite Eight participant Transylvania.  Including Sunday’s match, HCAC teams have now dealt Ohio Wesleyan three of its last six tournament losses. Perhaps the conference slate leads to a style of play built to win these games, but in any event the template was there for an HCAC win.

The Background: Teams playing after a bye often struggle; this makes four out of the past five seasons where at least one bye recipient has lost. More specifically, Ohio Wesleyan has struggled with byes. Despite winning the 2011 title with a bye, the Bishops lost in 2009 after giving up only two regular season goals and in 2005 after posting a perfect 20–0 record. There is just something about these games that leads to upsets, and OWU has proven particularly susceptible to them.

The Buildup: An NCAA second-round game, with the favorite receiving a bye and the underdog having already won a tournament game on the road. The favorite is off the normal midweek-weekend game schedule, while the underdog has already tasted NCAA play. Here, Rose-Hulman advanced in the tournament for the first time in program history only three days earlier. The confidence stemming from such an experience cannot be overstated.

The Pressure: All of it fell on Ohio Wesleyan: an early exit in 2012, a senior-laden team with a championship pedigree, a home game with a bye. Rose-Hulman had nothing to lose, as the team’s stated goal was to simply advance in the tournament. Rather than be satisfied, the Engineers embraced the underdog role and decided to continue a magical run.

The (Flawed) Perception: If you simply look at records, Rose-Hulman hardly has the resume of a Sweet 16 team. At 11–5–5, the Engineers had barely won more than half of their games against a relatively weak schedule. Look closer, however, and you can see the framework for a dangerous team capable of beating anyone. A stingy defense with more shutouts (12) than goals against (11) would be difficult to break down. A seemingly impotent offense (only 37 goals) boasted a 15-goal scorer and would be able to take advantage of any defensive lapses. This dangerous combination would lead to a Sweet 16 berth.

The Favorite’s Weakness: Ohio Wesleyan trailed in six games and nine other times allowed teams to draw even after taking the lead. It used on a potent offense and an open style of play, often relying on the second half to put teams away after lackluster first halves. In a tight game against a team content to sit deep and defend, the Bishops couldn’t adjust.

The Weather: Days of rain muddied the field and slowed Ohio Wesleyan’s speed advantage and combination game. Facing an opening 45 minutes against the wind, Rose-Hulman knew that if it survived unscathed it would be able to take advantage of the conditions in the second half. The Engineers went even further, scoring against the wind and then using it to clear the ball time and again in the second half to put the game to bed.

The Early Goal: If the favorite scores an early goal, the underdog often struggles to come back.  Similarly, if the underdog scores but is quickly pegged back, the same result follows. However, scoring early gives the underdog belief and something to protect while relieving the pressure of needing a goal. Simultaneously, the pressure builds on the favorite as the game drags on. Here, Rose-Hulman scored a quality goal five minutes in and visibly grew in confidence as the game progressed, while OWU simply ran out of ideas.

Luck: No team goes far in the NCAA tournament without it. In just the past three seasons the champions have had the rub of the green: 2012 Messiah beat York in penalties, 2011 Ohio Wesleyan came from two down with 15 minutes to go in the Sweet 16, and 2010 Messiah benefitted from an egregious missed call that denied Lynchburg the title. In similar fashion, Rose-Hulman was lucky to see multiple shots from OWU cannon off the post on Sunday.

Stout Defending: The biggest surprise was not the final score, but the manner in which Rose-Hulman won. After withstanding Ohio Wesleyan’s first-half barrage, most assumed it would be business as usual following the break. Rose-Hulman had other ideas, as strong centerback play led the way in keeping the Bishops from registering a single shot on goal in the second half. This is even more impressive considering the Engineers failed to register a single attack of note in the last 85 minutes of the game. While Ohio Wesleyan was certainly off, the bulk of the credit rightfully goes Rose-Hulman for its defensive effort, as it looked comfortable for the entire second half.

The Bottom Line: While an upset often involves elements of luck, circumstance, and even an “off day” from the favorite, more than anything it requires a special performance. Rose-Hulman put forth such a performance on Sunday, using the best defensive effort seen at Roy Rike Field in recent memory to deservedly advance. The Engineers got their goal and seemingly said, “Our defense is good enough to win this game from here.” As it turns out, they were correct.

Thursday, Sep. 1: All times Eastern
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TBA
Newbury at Suffolk
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TBA
Mass-Dartmouth at Framingham State
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TBA
Washington College at Neumann
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TBA
Wentworth at Wheaton (Mass.)
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TBA
Stevenson at Gwynedd-Mercy
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Curry at Colby-Sawyer
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Emmanuel at Daniel Webster
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Macalester at UW-Superior
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Howard Payne at University of Dallas
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TBA
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3:00 PM
Olivet at Rochester (Mich.)
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4:00 PM
Lake Michigan College at Kalamazoo
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4:00 PM
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4:00 PM
North Central (Minn.) at Maranatha Baptist
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4:00 PM
St. Norbert at Lakeland
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5:00 PM
Franklin at Wabash
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5:00 PM
Keene State at Worcester State
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5:00 PM
Northwestern (Minn.) at St. Olaf
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5:00 PM
Bethel at Simpson
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5:00 PM
Chicago at Dominican
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5:00 PM
University of the Ozarks at Lyon
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5:30 PM
Wisconsin Lutheran at Beloit
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5:30 PM
Lawrence at Concordia (Wis.)
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5:30 PM
North Park at Aurora
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6:00 PM
Greenville at Alma
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6:00 PM
Saint Mary's (Minn.) at Martin Luther
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6:00 PM
Minnesota-Morris at Carleton
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6:00 PM
Rockford at Northland
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6:00 PM
North Idaho Col. at Whitworth
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6:30 PM
UW-Platteville at Cornell
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7:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
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7:00 PM
Lawrence Tech (Mich.) at Ohio Northern
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7:00 PM
Nichols at WPI
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7:00 PM
Becker at Massachusetts Maritime
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7:00 PM
Wilmington at Wittenberg
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7:00 PM
Muskingum at Carnegie Mellon
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7:00 PM
Spalding at Austin
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7:30 PM
Mount Union at Case Western Reserve
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7:30 PM
Principia at Rose-Hulman
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8:00 PM
Sewanee at LaGrange
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8:00 PM
Washington U. at Webster
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8:00 PM
Lake Forest at Benedictine
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8:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Wartburg
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8:00 PM
Huntingdon at Birmingham-Southern
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10:00 PM
Augsburg at Cal Lutheran
Friday, Sep. 2: All times Eastern
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TBA
Norwich at New Paltz State
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TBA
North Central (Minn.) at Emmaus
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1:00 PM
Averett at Mary Washington
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4:00 PM
Hobart at Dickinson
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4:00 PM
Salve Regina at Plattsburgh State
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4:00 PM
Finlandia at Rockford
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4:00 PM
Colorado College at Concordia-Moorhead
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5:00 PM
Trine at Anderson
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5:00 PM
Elmhurst at Earlham
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6:00 PM
Mount Aloysius at York (N.Y.)
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6:30 PM
Alfred State at St. Vincent
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6:30 PM
Buena Vista at St. Thomas
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7:00 PM
McDaniel at Gallaudet
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7:00 PM
Husson at Gordon
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7:00 PM
Iowa Wesleyan at Crown
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7:30 PM
Hiram at Baldwin Wallace
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8:00 PM
Maine Maritime at University of New England
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8:00 PM
Minnesota-Morris at UW-Whitewater
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8:00 PM
St. Olaf at Dubuque
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9:00 PM
Austin at Centre
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10:00 PM
Augsburg at UC Santa Cruz
Saturday, Sep. 3: All times Eastern
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TBA
Pine Manor at Newbury
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TBA
Norwich at SUNY Canton
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Hood at Drew
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TBA
TBA at Hiram
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TBA
Curry at Johnson State
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TBA
Emerson at Emmanuel
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TBA
Averett at Marymount
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TBA
Milwaukee Engineering at Hamline
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TBA
Luther at Carleton
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TBA
University of Dallas at Hendrix
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TBA
Pacific Lutheran at Pomona-Pitzer
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10:00 AM
Mass-Boston at Wentworth
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12:00 PM
Wheaton (Ill.) at Rose-Hulman
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12:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Rowan
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12:00 PM
Alfred State at Catholic
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1:00 PM
Stevenson at Randolph-Macon
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1:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Keene State
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1:00 PM
Stockton at Mary Washington
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1:00 PM
Salve Regina at Plattsburgh State
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1:00 PM
Crown at Wisconsin Lutheran
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1:30 PM
Massachusetts College at Becker
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1:30 PM
John Carroll at Brandeis
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2:00 PM
Mount Aloysius at SUNY-Old Westbury
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2:00 PM
Berry at Wooster
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2:00 PM
Northwestern (Minn.) at Bethel
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2:00 PM
Texas-Dallas at Chicago
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3:00 PM
Trine at Earlham
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3:00 PM
Kalamazoo at DePauw
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3:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Valley Forge
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3:00 PM
Albion at Grinnell
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3:30 PM
Central at Alma
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3:30 PM
Iowa Wesleyan at Martin Luther
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4:00 PM
TCNJ at Dickinson
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4:00 PM
DeSales at Bridgewater (Va.)
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4:00 PM
Finlandia at Northland
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4:00 PM
St. Scholastica at Gustavus Adolphus
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4:00 PM
Macalester at UW-Whitewater
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4:00 PM
Carroll at St. John's
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5:00 PM
Carnegie Mellon at Mount Union
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5:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at TBA
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5:00 PM
Westminster (Mo.) at Simpson
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5:00 PM
Rhodes at University of the Ozarks
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6:00 PM
Shenandoah at Ferrum
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6:00 PM
Knox at St. Scholastica
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Oberlin at Ohio Northern
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Carthage at Gordon
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7:00 PM
Coe at UW-Platteville
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7:00 PM
Occidental at Whitworth
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7:30 PM
Baldwin Wallace at Penn State-Behrend
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7:30 PM
Covenant at Wilmington
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9:00 PM
Corban at Linfield
Sunday, Sep. 4: All times Eastern
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TBA
WPI at Worcester State
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TBA
Hood at FDU-Florham
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TBA
North Central (Minn.) at Carleton
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TBA
Milwaukee Engineering at St. John's
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TBA
Carroll at Hamline
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TBA
University of Dallas at Rhodes
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TBA
Brevard at Huntingdon
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12:00 PM
Washington and Lee at St. Joseph's (L.I.)
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12:00 PM
Wentworth at Lasell
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12:00 PM
Saint Mary's (Minn.) at North Park
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1:00 PM
Case Western Reserve at Thomas More
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1:00 PM
Central at Olivet
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1:00 PM
Emerson at Curry
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1:00 PM
Franklin at Sewanee
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2:00 PM
Piedmont at Guilford
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2:00 PM
Wesley at Bridgewater (Va.)
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2:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Lake Forest
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2:00 PM
Martin Luther at Wisconsin Lutheran
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2:00 PM
Colorado College at St. Thomas
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2:30 PM
Bethany Lutheran at Beloit
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3:00 PM
Franklin at Birmingham-Southern
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3:00 PM
Me.-Fort Kent at Maine Maritime
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3:30 PM
Wooster at Transylvania
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4:00 PM
Haverford at Brandeis
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4:00 PM
Albion at Loras
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4:00 PM
Knox at Gustavus Adolphus
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4:30 PM
Buena Vista at Concordia-Moorhead
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5:00 PM
Augustana at Aurora
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5:00 PM
Hendrix at University of the Ozarks
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6:00 PM
Lakeland at Illinois Wesleyan
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7:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at TBA
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8:00 PM
Oregon Tech at Linfield
No contests today.
No contests today.