Nov. 25, 2013
PORTLAND, Ore. -
PORTLAND, Ore. - When sophomore Ryan Dhillon of Simon Fraser scored in the eighth minute of Sunday's NCAA Division II men's soccer quarterfinal contest against Regis University, it was much too early in the match to assume it would be the game-winner.
When fellow sophomore and Great Northwest Athletic Conference women's soccer leading scorer Catherine Miles of Western Washington tucked away her 15th goal of the season just a few hours later, the same statement held true as it came in just the sixth minute of the Vikings' DII quarterfinal bout against St. Edward's.
Simon Fraser unleashed for a 5-0, record-setting rout of Regis, while an own goal for St. Edward's made the Vikings the only team this season to tally more than one goal against the previously undefeated Hilltoppers.
In the end, both teams won, extended their seasons, and are each just two victories away from an NCAA title.
For Simon Fraser's men, the Final Four, is familiar territory, as the Clan reached the stage last season. For Western Washington's women, it's a monumental program-first.
"We are very excited, and I'm really happy for all of our players," Viking head coach Travis Connell commented on the best season in WWU women's soccer history. "All of the players, both current and past have worked really hard for this."
WWU's upcoming trip to Evans, Ga., symbolizes the fruits of labor for Connell, the 11-year architect of a team that has become a force to be reckoned with across all of Division II.
"We have received so much support from our athletic department and institution, as well as hard work from all of our players and coaching staff," said Connell regarding the development of his program. "We wouldn't be in this position without the stiff competition we have in this conference."
Since joining the GNAC for the 2010 season, SFU has all but rewritten the conference record books. Last season's team set records for season goals (73), assists (58), points (204), shots (473), corner kicks (169) and most consecutive wins or ties (24 between 2011 and 2012). The Clan entered Sunday's match with 70 goals this season, and with an 84th-minute finish from Alexander Kleefeldt a new standard was set for goals in a single season.
While the continual redefinition of statistical elitism provides context to the Clan's superiority, Koch believes it is how the team finishes the season that determines its level of success.
"Last season we made it to the Final Four, this season we are going to the semifinals," Koch said hinting that last season's run was an accomplishment just to make it while this season the goal is to win matches. "It was all glitz and glamour last year, this year we're getting ready for the next match."
For Connell, reaching the Final Four this year is a big step, but his team's expectations remain lofty entering the tournament.
"As a coach, you worry that your players might be content with us getting the most program wins and this being the furthest we have gone," said Connell. "We haven't really seen much of that, and the players are very focused on their goals still which is really exciting to see at this point."
The 2013 Final Four men's and women's tournaments each begin on Dec. 5 at Blanchard Woods Park in Georgia. Simon Fraser will face Carson-Newman, while Western Washington takes on the defending national champion West Florida.
"I'm really impressed thus far and we have accomplished a lot," Connell commented. "At the same time, the players are still hungry for more, and that is the most valuable thing to have going into this tournament."