Viking Views Summer 2021 (FB)

A Tale Of Two Seasons: Men’s Soccer’s Run to a National Championship by Andy Pulverenti A team made up of international student-athletes, the men’s soccer team faced a number of questions prior to the start of the 2020 campaign. Many were unsure of how the pandemic would impact not only their soccer careers, but also their status of staying in the country and continuing their education, not to mention issues the pandemic created for families back home. In an athletic year full of uncertainty, the Missouri Valley College men’s soccer team was one of the program’s most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Postponing the National tournament created an unusual situation for the team; splitting up the schedule into a fall season and a spring season. The team came together and persevered throughout to finish an historic season that culminated with the program’s first ever National championship. At the start of fall camp in August, there was a lot unknown about whether or not a season would even be played. Strict guidelines put in place by Missouri Valley, the Heart of America Athletic Conference and the NAIA revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic would give athletic teams very thin margins on getting a season up and running. “Our coaching staff made it clear in the beginning that everyone on the team would have to follow the guidelines and instructions put in place by the college, conference and NAIA in order for a season to be played,” said Men’s Soccer Head Coach Vladimir Simic. “As a coach, I was nervous every single day that we would go into quarantine and lose part of or the majority of our season. Our guys understood what was expected of them, and luckily we went through the fall without any issues, and were able to play our full schedule.” There were some early ups and downs at the start of the fall season. The team opened with a 3-0 win at home over Missouri Baptist, but followed with a 1-0 defeat at MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.). After a 3-1 win over Grand View (Iowa) at home, the team played to a scoreless draw in a home game against Mount Mercy (Iowa). The Vikings then faced a two-goal deficit late in the second half at Graceland (Iowa), before scoring twice in the final 11 minutes of regulation, and eventually earning a 4-3 win with a goal in the first overtime period. Some of the new guidelines put in place were having an impact on the team, and were possibly reasons for some of the early struggles. “Once we got on the field, everything was normal, but everything off the field was different,” said Simic. “It took time to adjust to

away trips, with how we had to travel on the busses, restrictions on how we could eat meals when traveling, plus the stress of staying out of quarantine all played a factor early in the season.” However, over the next three weeks, the team began to overcome some of the early season adversity. The Vikings went 5-1 in matches, with the lone loss coming on the road in non-conference play against eventual National semifinalist Columbia (Mo.). The team outscored its opponents in those five wins by a margin of 16-4, with wins over Evangel (Mo.), Park (Mo.), Benedictine (Kan.), Baker (Kan.) and William Penn (Iowa). The run put the team at 8-2-1 overall, and 7-1-1 in the Heart going into a home match against two-time defending National champion Central Methodist (Mo.). Missouri Valley held the better of possession early, and put two shots on goal in the opening three minutes, but Central Methodist scored two goals in the first half, and added one more midway through the second half to defeat the Vikings, 3-1. Despite the loss, the team rebounded to finish its fall season with an 8-0 win at Clarke (Iowa), followed by a 7-1 win at home over Culver-Stockton (Mo.). “I was very happy to finish the fall season the way we did, but there were some difficulties we had to deal with,” said Simic. “Ruben Jimenez was out for the entire fall season recovering from an injury sustained last year, plus we were missing some other key players as well. Our focus then shifted to the spring season, and we had to replace Juri Schlingmann who was graduating, and we had to make sure the team stayed in shape and would be physically and mentally ready for more games going into the spring.” The split season did have one benefit for Simic, as he was able to recruit and bring in some new student- athletes for the spring. The new additions made the biggest impact on the team’s defense, with Steven Milosevic playing center back, and Kazuki Hashimoto at defender. The team played two non-conference opponents in the spring, both in March, earning 2-1 wins over Hannibal-LaGrange (Mo.) and Concordia (Neb.) at home, along with scrimmages against Sporting KC Youth Academy. “We had some good scrimmages in the spring that helped us improve, and we had a goal for winning all our games in the spring, going into the conference tournament,” said Simic. The conference tournament opened with a pair of wins at home, both by 5-1 score lines. The Vikings topped Park in the quarterfinal round, then avenged a loss from back in September by defeating MidAmerican Nazarene in the semifinals to set up another meeting with No. 1 Central Methodist. While the team fell in

8 Viking Views | 2021

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