The Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets secured their fourth straight UMAC Championship Saturday over Bethany Lutheran in an eventful 5-0 home victory.
Superior entered the championship match undefeated in conference play, with just one loss overall this season (against Augsburg) and a perfect home record. Saturday’s final was also a rematch after the two sides faced off early in the season in a 6-5 overtime thriller decided on Blake Perry's theatrical winner for UWS.
If the Yellowjackets had fallen to the visiting Vikings, it would have been Bethany Lutheran’s first UMAC men’s soccer championship.
The afternoon started well for the Yellowjackets, and particularly for Perry. Perry, who started the day with 11 goals and eight assists, won a free kick near the left edge of the Vikings penalty area within the first minute of the match, then headed in the free kick to open the scoring before the clock could hit 44 seconds.
While Max Busch, operating as a striker, managed to create some threatening moments for Bethany Lutheran in the first half, the Vikings spent much of the half defending.
It was a very physical half of soccer, with multiple Yellowjackets going down injured to various degrees. The intensity carried over to the sidelines, where the referee ejected UWS head coach Joe Mooney from the sideline in the 24th minute after a heated debate over the permissive officiating.
Protus Babaya found the Yellowjackets’ second goal of the day in the 33rd minute, running on to a long pass and controlling the ball through a mess of challenges from the goalkeeper and Vikings backline before tapping in a well-earned addition to the scoreline.
Nicolai Stokker added the final goal of the first half and gave Superior a 3-0 lead going into halftime.
Perry started the second half much like the first, bringing down an arching long pass, creating some space, and scoring the fourth goal of the day with confidence in the 53rd minute.
Bethany Lutheran held more possession in the second half and created several opportunities through Max Busch and Benjamin Phillips, but neither were able to outsmart UWS goalkeeper Ulrik Lager, who was only occasionally challenged between the goalposts but still managed several memorable saves.
Miguel Ocampo sealed the win in the 87th minute with a long-distance goal set up by Sam Waylee Jr., blasting the ball into the net from about 30 yards out, marking a strong individual performance on the day and a dominating afternoon for his team. The final whistle followed not long after, with the Yellowjackets officially becoming UMAC men’s soccer champions for the fourth straight year.
It was quite an afternoon for Perry, later named UMAC Tournament MVP, and Mooney had only good notes for the junior, who played multiple positions on the day and has proven crucial to the Yellowjackets throughout the season.
“He works so hard away from the game and then on gameday he’s just always going to be up for it. There’s just no quit in that kid. He’s always going to have a performance,” Mooney said.
Bethany Lutheran was one of the few schools to trouble UWS during the regular season, scoring five against the Yellowjackets in their previous matchup. Mooney noted that while the scoreline was very different today, it was largely due to growth as a group and investment by the players to the team, rather than a tactical shift.
“I think our guys just learned from that game and then all the games thereafter. I figure it just shows that they bought into our process. We’ve been making adjustments all through the season just to get better and better.”
Mooney also noted that while the scoreline was quite one sided, he felt the visiting Vikings deserved plenty of acknowledgement.
“Hats off to Bethany too, I don’t know if the scoreline was really reflective of how the game went.”
Mooney ended his thoughts with a note of gratitude for the group, which had to overcome a tumultuous year but eventually found their focus, firmly holding on to the same championship they’d managed to dominate for the last three seasons.
“I’m just so grateful for the guys to stay locked into this, for their commitment and dedication, their buy-in. I love these guys and I’m just so lucky to work around such a great group.”