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Conference championship hopes for men’s soccer

This fall season for our men’s soccer program is one of many great excitement unseen by the program for years. With promising and determined underclassmen and experienced upperclassmen, the team has all that it takes to take Lawrence University to win its first conference championships since 1985. Boasting a 4-1 conference record and a 7-8 overall record, the team has hope to finish top of the conference with three conference games left to play.  

The start of the regular season for the Vikings was a tumultuous one. With a great opening scrimmage versus Lakeland University, the official season started poorly with a devastating 6-2 loss to Marian. The Vikings got their 2 goals from Junior Mark Todd and Sophomore Elliot Mueller. The loss would be the first of many during the preconference run for the Vikings as they aimed to find out how to play best to their strengths and start to string together wins. The next two games found the Vikings in Washington state facing two nationally ranked teams in Whitman and Whitworth College. The program would see 1-3 and 0-4 losses respectively to those teams, with Freshman Kostas Fardellas finding earning his first of many collegiate goals and Senior Hunter Lanton putting on a goalkeeping clinic despite the score line. The scores would not tell the entire stories of those games, as they did not portray the improvements made and experience gained from them for all members of the team.  

The Vikings would return from Washington to face Wisconsin Lutheran College for the second time this year, the first being in the fall. The team came out with something to prove to themselves and fought their way to a 2-1 win. Junior Sean McLaughlin would find his first of several goals this season along with Kostas Fardellas earning his second. But the following day the Vikings would fall to Concordia University at home, with Mark Todd scoring the only goal in the 4-1 loss at home. The losses would continue for the next game where the Vikings would lose 5-0 to the nationally ranked team at Carthage College. Although with more games on the horizon and much more experience fine tuning the defense and offense through the prior wins and losses, the Vikings would come back stronger.  

Facing Finlandia University on September 17th, the Vikings would light up the scoreboard with 6 goals to Finlandia’s 1. Vikings who found the back of the net included 4 from Kostas Fardellas, 1 from Junior Jack Morrissey, and Freshman Rodrigo Molina’s first collegiate goal. The wins would continue with Lawrence’s short notice game against Northland College which saw Elliot Mueller and Sean McLaughlin edging the score to win 2-1 in quite the scrappy game, which almost ended with a brawl on the field as tempers flared between teams. With a two-game win streak, the Vikings would enter the conference hungry to prove themselves at Lake Forest College in their conference opener.  

The Vikings got their first taste of conference play versus a Lake Forest team that had a pre-conference record 0-6 at the time. The teams went to a draw in regular time, forcing overtime in which a golden goal would decide the victor. As the fatigued Vikings entered the second half of overtime, their efforts would soon pay off as the over eager Foresters would push too many players up in an attempt to score, leaving them exposed to a Viking counterattack. Who else would find himself on the end of the counter but Freshman Kostas Fardellas who would seal the game with under 5 minutes left. Ecstatic, the Vikings would rush the field, finally having beaten a team that had consistently stumped them for 10 years, igniting the flame that has led them to where they stand now.  

Before conference play could resume, the Vikings faced a slight road bump in Carrol University who bested the Vikings 2-0 at home in a close game which saw Carrol be a little more clinical with their finishing. But the game would only fire up the men to put on a performance at Illinois College in their second conference game of the season. The game would start off hopeful for the Vikings when Kostas Fardellas added 2 goals to his resume within the first 25 minutes, but the Blue Boys of Illinois College would earn a goal just before the first half ended off a long throw in. The Vikings would concede once more before Freshman Max Bernhart would get his first college goal off a perfectly place freekick from Sean McLaughlin. But it wouldn’t be enough to seal the game as the Blue Boys forced the game into overtime off a corner kick in the 88th minute. Luckily for the Vikings, the Blue Boys showed lack of discipline in their penalty box, “horrifically” fouling Junior Mark Todd who went down in “utter agony”, earning the Vikings a penalty which Sean McLaughlin would bury in the back of the net. The win would set the Vikings to face former conference champions Knox College who shared the same 2-0 conference record.  

The clash for top spot in conference was set for October 9th, as the Vikings would face their toughest opponent in the conference Knox College. Knox boasts an impressive conference record having won the 2019 midwestern conference championship. The game kicked off and in the 16th minute, Knox would show a lack of discipline as one of their defenders swiped the leg of Sophomore Brett Schneider in the penalty box, allowing Sean McLaughlin to finish his third penalty of the season. Knox responded quickly 9 minutes later with a cross that found its way past the backline and was promptly finished, but no less than 11 minutes later would Knox find themselves handing over another penalty as they gave away a handball in their own box. The penalty would be taken and finished by Mark Todd, making the game 2-1 for the Vikings in the first half. The second half would be all defense from the Vikings as they stumped Knox’s scoring efforts, allowing only one dangerous cross in the last minute which was sent far over the goal. The Vikings had toppled the, now second, toughest team in the conference.   

Momentum from the win over Knox carried over to the Vikings to their next home game against rivals Ripon College. Opening the scoring in the first half was Kostas Fardellas who sent the Vikings into the second half 1-0 up. The scoring would pick up in the second half as Freshman Zach Dale found the back of the net with a great header, picking up his first collegiate goal. Next up for first collegiate goals would be Sophomore Cooper Kerkhof who found the top corner, giving the keeper no chance of earning himself a save. Now 3-0 up the Vikings would earn themselves one more goal as Rodrigo Molina would find himself fouled in the penalty and subsequently finishing his earned penalty to bury Ripon. Next up for the Vikings would be to make the trip to Grinnell Iowa to face the Grinnell Pioneers.  

In Iowa, the Vikings faced a Grinnell side driven to keep their conference tournament hopes alive. The Pioneers would be the ones to hand the Vikings their only loss as the game drew on scoreless for both sides until the last 8 minutes where Grinnell’s top goal scorer ended the conference winning streak for Vikings and continued the Pioneer’s hopes for a spot in the conference tournament. The result of the game did not reflect the heart of the Vikings as they defended well for most of the game bar the one goal that slipped by. The loss would be followed by a midweek non-conference loss to UW Eau Claire, who bested Lawrence 4-0 at home. But the battle for the top conference spot does not die with a couple mid-season losses as the Vikings now look for redemption against the top spot held currently by Cornell College this Saturday.  

 The standings, as I write this, have Cornell top of the table with a 5-0 conference record set to face second place Knox on the 20th of October and the Vikings on the 28th. This week could see standings change drastically as all three teams have the possibility to enter next week on top of the conference. Were Cornell to drop points against Knox and Lawrence, both victors would be tied for first place. And were Cornell to draw with Knox and lose to Lawrence, Cornell would still hold their top spot, with Lawrence in a close second. The Vikings cannot afford anything less than a win in their next three games if they want to finish on top. Tune in to watch your Lawrence University Vikings actualize their conference championship dreams this Saturday on stream against Cornell and at home next week on Wednesday and Saturday as they face Beloit and Monmouth college to end the regular season.