Tears fell and players embraced one another as the NMU soccer team’s season came to an end this past week.
On Friday, the ‘Cats lost 0-3 to the No. 1 Grand Valley State Lakers, in the semi-finals of the Great Lake Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) playoffs.
Just three days later, the team learned it fell short once again, as the ‘Cats failed to receive an NCAA playoff berth.
“I think being a competitive athlete comes with a lot of emotion. You lay it on the line every time you play,” head coach Matt Granstrand said. “So yeah, it’s disappointing that you can’t make it to the next level.”
In the game, GVSU’s Irie Dennis scored seven minutes in. The Lakers struck again when All-American Katy Tafler scored in the last minute of the first half.
Going into halftime, the Wildcats knew that they could be facing the last 45 minutes of their season. The team decided to give everything it had and to go out in good form.
“I think I would have been more disappointed if we wouldn’t have given our all,” said senior Renee LeBlanc. “You can tell when [the team’s] heart is there and it was there this year, so you can’t be disappointed.”
The ‘Cats (12-5-2 overall, 3-3-2 GLIAC) showed their persistence in the second half and came close to scoring on a shot by junior midfielder Casey Wilcox. Sophomore defender Emily Lockery also shut down Tefler, who scored no goals in the half.
“We didn’t have any luck on our side,” said senior Amanda Gadomski. “It was a pretty even match but we just didn’t get lucky.”
Katie Johnson scored the third GVSU goal with just under 13 minutes left in the game.
Despite the playoff result the team’s overall record, the ‘Cats still had something to cherish at the end of the season.
“[GVSU] will always be a Division-I program in a Division-II conference,” Granstrand said. “This was a wonderful year. It was the best on-the-field year we have had, without a doubt-at least since I’ve been here.”
In 2004 the team was 7-6-3. Since then, the ‘Cats have won at least 10 games every season.
“We now are a regional power,” Granstrand said. “National recognition is coming, but it just doesn’t happen overnight.”
Granstrand said a lot of the program’s current success can be attributed to the seniors. Katie Alcini, Jami Beebe, Sarah Scarpace, Gadomski and LeBlanc are all leaving the team.
The seniors exemplified how far the program has become and gave the returning players an inspiration to continue to improve.
“All the seniors this year-I had been with them for so long. It’s going to be hard to see them go,” said midfielder Brittney Buchanan. “I hope I can be that type of person for next year.”
The five seniors worked with a fairly young team this season, as there were 16 underclassmen on the 26-player roster.
“You realize how lucky you are, to be here, because not a lot of people get the chance to move on and play college sports,” freshman Dana Stephens said. “So when you see the seniors playing so hard, it motivates you to play harder and work to the next level.”
The older players gained a companionship with the younger players and Granstrand said this team was a more balanced team – both offensively and defensively – than he has had in years prior.
“I love all the seniors. They’re awesome,” said sophomore goalie Kara Music. “But I think this team will move forward as a program and I think we will do really well next year.”
Granstrand said the next level for the ‘Cats would be to make the national tournament. A tournament that they have been knocking on the door of for the past two years so the team is very close to the level it wants to be competing at.
“With the girls they have right now there’s no doubt in my mind they will make the national tournament,” LeBlanc said.
The ‘Cats will take two weeks off before starting on their offseason training, said Granstrand.
Ending season honors were awarded to LeBlanc and Buchanan who both made second team all GLIAC. The entire team will continue to recruit players and take time to progress to next season.
While working toward, next year the ‘Cats can look back at this season and remember where they were and focus on where they can go.
“I very happy what our team has been able to do and how our team has been able to come along,” LeBlanc said. “Maybe we didn’t make the tournament while I was here, but it doesn’t matter. It was a great experience and I’m going to look back on it and see it as something I miss.”