The tradition keeps growing for the University of Wisconsin-Superior men’s soccer team.
The Yellowjackets, who won their second straight Upper Midwest Athletic Conference regular-season championship and then their third straight UMAC tournament title, will take a nine-game winning streak into the NCAA Division III Luther Regional this weekend in Decorah, Iowa.
UWS take on No. 14 Central College (Iowa) in the opening round at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16.
The other regional game is the host, and No. 1 regionally-ranked, Luther College (16-4-1) vs. Pricipia College (12-6), which earned is from the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The winners will play at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17.
“We have had an incredible group of young men over the past few years that have created a tradition of excellence within our program,” UWS coach Joe Mooney said.
Two of those players are A.J. Olson, who repeated at the UMAC Defensive Player of the Year, and senior captain Eric Watson, the UMAC’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Mooney was also named the UMAC Coach of the Year for the second straight year.
The Central College Dutch, a first-time NCAA tournament team, enters region play with a 14-3-2 record. They had a four-match winning streak snapped with a loss to Luther in the semifinals of America Rivers Conference tournament.
UWS and Central never met in men's soccer.
“You have to be impressed with what Central has been able to do this year, they have notched some great results throughout the season,” UWS coach Joe Mooney said. “Everything I have heard from coaches who have played them is that they are one of the hardest working teams they have faced all season.
“I think it makes for a great matchup because I think most of our opponents would say that our identity is also centered around our work ethic and grit on the field.”
The Yellowjackets are led on offense by Blake Perry (14 goals, nine assists), Watson (15-3), Miguel Ocampo (8-10) and Blake Doyea (7-6).
“These guys have really found a chemistry this year that makes them a tough matchup for any opponent,” Mooney said. “Knowing that a team can’t just focus on one of our front players gives us a dynamic and balanced attack that is difficult to defend.”
Olson, along with a defense that included juniors Scott Wilson and Jefri Damas and sophomore Noah Merritt, allowed just three goals in conference play and did not allow an opponent more than one in a single game.
“Chemistry has been the key to our defense picking things up toward the end of our season,” Mooney said. “We suffered a lot of injuries in the early and middle parts of our season that forced us to make a lot of changes game-to-game and our consistency really suffered during that stretch. Getting guys healthy and focusing on establishing that chemistry has been the key to us getting seven clean sheets in the last nine games.”
Injuries have also led to UWS using three keepers this season.
Dalton VonKaenel has seen the most action and is 10-2-1 with 32 saves and a 1.09 goals against average. Ulrik Lager is 2-0-1 (0.89 gaa) and Payton Anderson is 4-1 (0.80).
“Dalton has had a tremendous senior year,” Mooney said. “He’s been nursing a knee injury during the second half of the season so we will keep a close eye on that. But we have a lot of confidence in Ulrik as well, so we certainly aren’t afraid to turn to him if we need to.”
The 'Jackets (16-3-2) became the first team in UMAC men's soccer history to win a match in the NCAA tournament with 2-1 win over Augsburg in the opening round of the 2018 tournament.
"We're excited to be back in the NCAAs again," head coach Joe Mooney said. "I think we are hitting our stride at the right time, and hopefully we can make some noise in the tournament."
’JACKET JOTTINGS: Charlie Pritchard leads the Dutch in scoring with eight goals and six assists. Matthew West has a team-high nine goals with one assist and Nathan Cass had four goals and four assists. … UWS’s roster also includes a pair of former Superior Spartans. Sophomore Blake Hanson has three goals and two assists in 19 games, while Brandon Conklin, a freshman, has one assist in 12 games. … Watson was also named to the Academic All-District Men's Soccer Team by the College Sports Information Directors of America. … Mooney has guided the Yellowjackets to a 33-game unbeaten streak against UMAC teams – including postseason – that dates back to the beginning of Oct. 2017. The Yellowjackets outscored their opponents 43-3 in the regular season and converted 5-of-7 penalty kicks to lead the conference. … Olson and Watson, along with senior Danny Kearns (midfield) and Perry, were named first-team all-conference; VonKaenel and Wilson were named second team; and junior Blake Doyea (midfield) and junior Miguel Ocampo (midfield) were honorable mention. ... Senior Flavio Hatorri was Superior's sportsmanship award winner.