The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has a new format for the opening round of soccer this year. The top 16 teams will host two games: one game on Friday for the two play-in teams, and the winner will go on to play the host team on Saturday. The winner of Saturday’s game will then move on to the final site: the women’s final site in Orange Beach, Alabama, and the men’s final site in Irvine, California.
Both men’s and women’s soccer teams will potentially have two games this weekend for the opening round of NAIA nationals, since neither team was able to get an at-large bid to host the opening round.
The women’s team is entering the first round of nationals with a record of 16-4 and finished second in the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC). The Broncos’ key success this year has been scoring, by ranking 13th in the NAIA in total goals with 66.
“This year we have had a lot more diverse goal-scorers. Previous years we have always had one or two dominant goal-scorers, but this year we have had multiple people that have been giving us goals and hasn’t been around one specific player,” said Senior Emmy Henely. “I think that has been great for us offensively because we are creating more chances by giving more people more opportunities.”
Last season, the Broncos were able to make it to the final site for the first time in four years, losing to Keiser University 3-0, ranked sixth.
“Something that will be tough is that we haven’t had a doubleheader in awhile. We have had some earlier this season, but they weren’t the most strenuous games on us physically and mentally,” Henely said. “That is something that we are going to need to start doing now is mentally preparing now. We need to know what is in store for us and what it takes to Alabama.”
The women’s team will travel to Indianapolis, Indiana, to play William Woods University today at 1 p.m. If they win, they will play the host team, Marian University, tomorrow.
“Remembering why we are here…Not a lot of teams are fortunate enough to still be training,” Henely said. “A lot of people ended their seasons a couple of weeks ago, so realizing how fortunate enough we are still putting in that extra yard sprint, because we still need to drive to get better even though it is so late in the season. So remembering we are still here, we still have so much to prove.”
The men’s team suffered two losses in conference play for the first time in 12 seasons. With those two losses and going 16-2-2 on the season, the team would drop down to the third spot in the GPAC and potentially only have one home game in the GPAC postseason tournament. With seeds one and two losing early in the tournament, HC was able to host all three GPAC tournament games. The Broncos were then able to go out and beat Briar Cliff University 2-0, winning their ninth GPAC tournament title.
“It was mainly mentally,” Sophomore Callum Watson said. “After our first loss against Midland, the boys were a little down, and it took a couple days for everyone to get their heads around it. Coach gave us a couple days off and then went straight back to work. It was a big hit. Everyone was gutted, but at the end of the day we still knew we had to complete the season and have a chance to get to nationals.”
The Broncos are eager to get back to the final site after a heartbreaking 3-2 home loss to Rocky Mountain College in the opening round of nationals last year. This season will be the first time HC will not host opening round for the men’s team since 2015.
“The main goal was to get the tournament trophy, and everyone thought if we won this game we would definitely be hosting, because in the poll we were ranked 12th. At the end of the day, we got told that we were the top 16 host. We were told we were playing Friday and Saturday if we win on Friday against Friends (University),” said Watson. “The boys are ready, and we have had a good week of training so far. So then we will go to Iowa to play Friends on Friday, hopefully get a result there and then hopefully get a win against William Penn on Saturday to get us to the final site in California.”
Hastings has been a more defensive team this year with a strong midfield and backline, ranking second in the NAIA in total shutouts with 13. The team has also been able to score when needed with a total of 61 goals on the season, ranking 19th with total goals in the NAIA. When needed this season, the Broncos have looked to Watson for his assisting or scoring abilities, as he holds nine NAIA rankings.
“It’s not necessarily to improve on, but we do have times in games we struggle, but that’s the way soccer goes. At times we have had meetings, and everyone has pulled together and the coaches as well. They are really helping us out this year with the adversity this year with the two losses this year,” Watson said. “We aren’t used to losing, and this is the first GPAC season we have lost in 19 years, but it’s been a big thing to overcome. Winning that tournament and carrying on with performing well will be a big thing with nationals on Friday.”
The men’s team will travel to Oskaloosa, Iowa, to play Friends University today at 7 p.m. and then potentially William Penn University (host team) on Saturday.