COLUMBIA — The last regular season men's soccer game at home for Columbia College's four seniors did not end as they had hoped.
Seniors Nikola Velickovic, Andres Acosta, Tom Vincenc and Dan Rapp were honored alongside their families before the game in what was their final regular season appearance in front of the home crowd.
Despite the added emotion from the ceremonies, Columbia College couldn't send them off with a victory, playing to a 1-1 tie with Baker University.
"Being senior night, you obviously really want to win," Vincenc said. "But that's a very good team over there, so a tie isn't the worst thing in the world."
The Wildcats, who defeated Columbia College last year 1-0, returned nearly everyone from a team that finished ranked in the top four nationally in the NAIA.
Though their record is only 6-5-4 this season, they have played one of the most difficult schedules in the country, which might be causing a less impressive record than the team's talent would indicate.
Cougars coach John Klein said his team, ranked fourth in the most recent national poll — their highest ranking since 2001 — matched up evenly with Baker, but was outworked and struggled on the offensive end.
"They're a physical, defensive-minded team, so our energy on the attack needs to be greater," Klein said. "We've come far enough where that energy needs to come from within the individual."
The Cougars fell behind early in the game when Baker scored in the sixth minute off a corner kick. The Cougars were able to respond quickly when junior midfielder Antonio Ayres tied the game with a long goal in the 26th minute.
The rest of the game was a defensive struggle, played on a field that resembled more of a swamp from the rain earlier in the day. Columbia College's best chance to win the game came late in the second half, when Acosta curved a ball around the wall set up in front of him on a free kick. The ball rolled just wide of the goal, causing Acosta to throw his hands on his head in despair.
Even after the game was over, the Cougars players were already looking forward to their next matchup against their conference rival Park University, set for Friday in Parkville. A win would clinch the American Midwest Conference regular season championship for the 13-0-4 Cougars, something they haven't won since 2009.
Velickovic, who injured his leg late in extra time but remained in the game, recognized the importance of the regular season finale and pledged that he would play despite the injury.
"If we lose Friday, we'll lose everything we've worked for all season," he said. "I gotta go on Friday. I've got this huge pain in my leg right now, but I've gotta go."