Columbia College men's soccer stays positive despite first loss

Friday, November 9, 2012 | 7:04 p.m. CST; updated 7:55 p.m. CST, Friday, November 9, 2012

The Columbia College men's soccer team lost on Friday for the first time in over a year.

The Cougars fell to Hannibal-LaGrange 1-0 in the American Midwest Conference tournament championship game, held in Hannibal, Mo. With the victory, the Trojans improved to 14-4 on the season, and will now receive an automatic bid to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national tournament. The loss drops the Cougars, the tournament's No. 2 seed, to 14-1-5.

Hannibal sophomore Joao Junqueira scored the match's only goal in the 29th minute. The Cougars held off subsequent Trojan attacks, but were unable to generate any offense of their own, finishing with 10 total shots and just three in the second half.

Columbia College head coach John Klein said that his team's performance fell far short of his expectations, but also noted that Hannibal has been a problematic place for Columbia College in the past. The Cougars' current crop of seniors have never won at Hannibal.

"Hannibal played like they had to win, and we didn't match that intensity," Klein said. "I thought we looked lethargic today. I was looking for a little more energy in a critical game."

After the match, six Cougars players were named to the AMC All-Conference first team, including: senior defenders Nikola Velickovic and Tom Vincenc, junior forward Rafael Ramos, sophomore forward Marko Paunovic, junior midfielder Antonio Ayres, and junior goalkeeper Matt McKenna. Ramos was also named AMC Newcomer of the Year.

Despite failing to acquire an automatic bid to the NAIA tournament, Columbia College will hope that a strong regular season record is enough to qualify them for one of eight "at-large" bids to nationals. The Cougars have been ranked in the top 10 nationally since Sept. 11, the second week of the season, and were one of three undefeated NAIA teams entering the final week of the season.

They will now have to wait until Sunday, when the NAIA brackets are announced, to find out if their season is set to continue.

Klein remains optimistic about his team's chances to advance to the tournament, but would have preferred the guaranteed spot afforded to the conference champions.

"I'd be shocked if we didn't hear our name called," he said. "Hopefully we can get some motivation from missing out on a (American Midwest Conference) championship opportunity if we're lucky enough to advance in the postseason."

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