Playoff race tightening as season wraps up

NMU+junior+defenseman+Edgar+Astorga+follows+through+on+a+kick+sent+toward+the+middle+of+the+field.%0APhoto+by+Neil+Flavin

NMU junior defenseman Edgar Astorga follows through on a kick sent toward the middle of the field. Photo by Neil Flavin

Nate Bellville

The Northern Michigan University Men’s Soccer team last weekend honored their four-senior class players that were part of the inaugural squad three years ago.

Even with the festivities going on, the team’s last homestand saw them earn a pair of 2-2 draws against the Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) Cardinals and the Ashland University Eagles.

“That’s the nature of the GLIAC right now,” head coach David Poggi said. “Two good teams, two important games, but I would’ve liked to have had better results from those games.”
Senior forward Sam Popp said the last home stint was a sentimental one.

“It was a very special weekend,” Popp said. “We’re all honored to have played all three years in front of this home crowd with our teammates.”

The Wildcats got on the board early last Friday as Popp scored off a corner-kick from freshman midfielder Kaffie Kurz. The 19th-ranked Cardinals answered back at the 15-minute mark after a free-kick deflected off the crossbar and dropped into the Wildcat net. SVSU kept the ball away from NMU as they led 9-2 in shots heading into halftime.

NMU picked up the tempo in the second half as they countered against the Cardinals offense. SVSU, however, took the lead in the 70th-minute as they scored off a rebound after a save from freshman goalkeeper Valentin Kliebe. Popp tied the game at two for his third multi-goal game of the season at the 74-minute mark. The Wildcats kept SVSU out of the net for the rest of the match as the two teams forced an overtime session.

Both teams couldn’t find the net in both overtime periods, forcing the Wildcats to salvage their second draw against SVSU this season.

Kliebe recorded five saves in the contest, while Popp notched a team-leading three shots.
“We played a lot better of a team performance against Saginaw Valley,” Poggi said. “It just shows what type of a battle it is in the conference.”

Popp got NMU on the board early again, during Sunday’s matchup against Ashland on Senior Day, as he netted his eighth goal of the season six minutes into the game. Sophomore forward Luca Lippert added a goal seven minutes later after a high pass landed on his foot from senior forward Nic Harenda. The Wildcats entered halftime with a 2-0 lead.

Picking up the intensity in the second half, the Eagles rallied to trim NMU’s lead to one at the 62-minute mark with a goal from Joseph Renner. Once again in the closing seconds, the Wildcats allowed the game-tying goal to send the game into overtime.

Both teams each recorded a pair of shots, but couldn’t find the net in both overtime periods. The NMU defense held Ashland in check to notch their fourth draw of the season.

Despite the Eagles outshooting NMU 20-17, Kliebe stood strong while accounted for eight saves, moving his save total to 52 on the season, the second-best in the GLIAC.
By salvaging three goals on the weekend, Popp earned GLIAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

“It’s nice to receive the award and I feel honored, but I feel bittersweet because of the two draws,” Popp said. “We’ll get back to grinding, and get back the two draws.”

The race for a home playoff game continues this weekend as the team travels to face the Purdue Northwest University (PNW) Pride in Indiana on Friday, Oct. 19, and then to face the Davenport University Panthers in Caledonia on Sunday, Oct. 21.

In the preseason polls, both Davenport and Purdue Northwest were predicted to finish amongst the top three teams in the conference, but have struggled with bad luck and injuries. NMU and PNW are listed in third and fourth place in the conference, respectively, while Davenport has fallen to last. Poggi believes it will be a battle to earn that last home-playoff matchup spot.

“Davenport and Purdue Northwest are two teams that are not done playing,” Poggi said.

“We’re all bunched in the standings with 13 points, 12 points and a couple 10 point (teams), so anything can happen.”