Men’s soccer gets postseason green light

Tim Ruberton

The men’s soccer team swept a pair of away matches last weekend, securing their third consecutive berth in the Midwest Conference tournament and leaving open the possibility of achieving their best overall finish in that span: No. 2, second only to hated-but-dominant rival St. Norbert College.
Saturday’s game at Illinois College was a must-win, not so much because a loss would have torpedoed the season, but because the Blueboys (0-7-1) simply aren’t very good. The Vikings dealt with said opponent appropriately, dismissing IC 2-0 and firing 19 total shots at Illinois goalie Kevin Boltz, 14 of them on-goal. Sophomore forward Ryan Pikna gave Boltz a workout, personally putting five shots on target and scoring the game’s first goal in the 41st minute off a pass from Joe Sluhoski. Pikna and Sluhoski combined again in the 81st minute to pad the margin, this time with Sluhoski getting credited with an unassisted goal. “The score sheet doesn’t give me credit,” lamented Pikna, “but honestly it was my assist.”
Sunday’s match against Monmouth started with a slightly different storyline, in that the Scots (1-4-2) had at least won a game. But nonetheless, the Vikes owned the field once again, winning 3-1. Things were a bit shaky early, as Monmouth drew first blood with a goal by Matt Mrowiec off a corner kick in the 30th minute. Lawrence goalie Matt Wolin described the goal as “scrappy.” Pikna thought that “[Wolin] was definitely fouled when he tried to catch the corner kick, but there was no call.” The Vikings squared the score with one second left in the first half when junior Klas Berghede connected with freshman Chris Carlson to produce Carlson’s first collegiate goal. Pikna got his second goal of the weekend – and what turned out to be his second game-winner of the weekend – off a pass by senior Richard Amankwah in the 49th minute. Freshman Tristan Lipe capped the scoring with a goal in the 61st minute while playing an advantage call after a foul against Nick Dufficy.
Head Coach Blake Johnson spoke well of his team’s play over the weekend. “From the first whistle we imposed our play and style. They had to adjust to us,” said Johnson, but “what needs to improve is the final pass into space behind defenders to create goal-scoring chances.”
Pikna’s performance in the matches earned him Midwest Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors, making him the second Viking so recognized this season; Berghede took the award at the start of the month. Now sporting a 6-2-0 record, the Vikings are currently sitting behind only St. Norbert (9-0-0) in the conference and will play in the four-team conference tournament in DePere Nov. 4-5. The winner of that tournament takes the MWC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. In each of the last two seasons, Lawrence has entered the conference tournament as the fourth seed and faced the Green Knights in the first round, losing both matches. With a win at Beloit later this week, the Vikes can cement their hold on the second seed and avoid repeating their past fate. Even with the tournament bid sewn up, the Vikings don’t plan to take Beloit (3-4-1) lightly: “We are happy with our qualification for the MWC tournament,” said Johnson, “however, we want to look beyond the qualification. … Qualification for the conference tournament is a standard we have set for our program now.” Wolin echoed his coach’s remarks. “The Beloit game is huge for us. The last two years we’ve been stuck with the four seed and an away game against Norbert’s,” Wolin said. “We may have clinched a spot in the tourney, but the game on Saturday is still the biggest of the year.