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It was a repeat performance for the Northern Kentucky University Men’s Soccer Team as it advanced to the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament.
The team beat Southern Illinois-Edwardsville Nov. 11 1-0 in the Great Lakes Region Championship game for the second consecutive year.
The road to the championship continues on the same path as last year, as NKU once again will face Lincoln Memorial University at home in Wilder, Ky., in the quarterfinals, Sunday, Nov. 18 at 1 p.m.
The matchup, which pitted the No. 1 team in the nation, NKU, against No. 20 SIU Edwardsville, remained scoreless until the 41st minute of play, when fifth-year senior Chris Thompson scored a point-blank goal off a throw-in from junior Tony Ray.
Just a few minutes after the goal, the game was delayed for a half-hour due to lightning and heavy rain. NKU Head Coach John Basalyga felt the timing of the rain delay may have helped his team.
“(The delay) was right after we scored, when they were looking to go on a run. It disrupted the rhythm of the game,” he said.
SIUE’s best opportunity to tie the game came in the 63rd minute off a free kick. Cougar goalie Greg Crook sent a long ball into the box, which was initially deflected away by NKU goalie Michael Lavric. The ball, however, went straight to the Cougars’ Ross Beveridge, who redirected a hard shot back at the goal. Luckily for the Norse, defender Eric Ashworth was waiting in front of the goal and headed it away.
The Norse controlled the ball for much of the remaining 20-plus minutes, and once the final seconds ticked away, the team and home crowd were celebrating its second Great Lakes Region championship win over SIUE in as many years.
“We just wanted it more than they did,” Thompson said after the match.
SIUE finished the game with 12 shots to NKU’s 11. It marked the first time all year that a team outshot the Norse.
Five NKU players were named to the Great Lakes Region All-Tournament Team. They were Eric Ashworth, Tony Capurro, Steven Beattie, Dan Impellizzeri, and Braden Bishop — most outstanding offensive player.
“Last year they brought in two busloads of students and they probably had more of their students at the game than we did. We’re hoping it’s different this year. It’s nice to play in front of a home crowd,” Basalyga said.
Basalyga may get his wish, as attendance this year at home matches has been consistently higher than last year.
Soccer fan Jeff Iker, a former student and current admissions counselor at NKU, offered his thoughts on the team and its bright future. “It’s cool that we’ve made it this far,” Iker said. “It’s going to be great for future recruiting now that the team is doing so well.”
NKU and SIUE arrived in the Great Lakes Region Final by beating Gannon University and Lewis University. The Norse won their game over Gannon, 5-2, while SIUE pulled off a minor upset against the 2nd seed Lewis University, winning 2-1.
Despite losing to Lewis in the conference tournament, Thompson looked forward to the matchup.
“We actually wanted to play Lewis again,” Thompson said, “we watched their semifinal game (SIUE/Lewis), SIUE played them really tough.”