COLUMBIA — The Columbia College men's soccer team has received an at-large bid to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes national tournament and was ranked sixth out of the top-16 qualifying teams that were ranked.
The Cougars (14-1-5) will host Cardinal Stritch University (13-4-2) at 3 p.m. Saturday at R. Marvin Owens Soccer Stadium. The Wolves, from Milwaukee, were the regular season champions of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
The Cougars were undefeated up until a 1-0 loss to Hannibal-LaGrange on Friday in the American Midwest Conference tournament championship. They have been ranked in the top 10 in the NAIA since the second week of the season. In the final polls before the national tournament, they were ranked 10th.
Six Cougars players were named to the AMC All-Conference first team, including junior forward Rafael Ramos who, with 10 goals this season, was also named AMC Newcomer of the Year. Sophomore forward Marko Paunovic leads the Cougars in scoring with 13 goals and five assists. Junior midfielder Antonio Ayres, who has five goals and three assists, was also named to the first team. Senior defenders Nikola Velickovic and Tom Vincenc and junior goalkeeper Matt McKenna represent the Columbia College defense on the first team.
As a team, Columbia College allowed just 13 goals during the regular season and have recorded nine shutouts. McKenna, who was in goal for six of those shutouts, has recorded 39 saves and allowed just 12 goals.
The Cougars are making their third appearance in the NAIA national tournament in the past four years, and it is the fourth appearance overall for coach John Klein since he came to Columbia College in 2000. In their last appearance in 2010, the Cougars fell in the opening round to Bryan University 2-1 in double overtime.
The winner of the opening-round matchup will move on to face the winner of the game between the University of Mobile and Texas Wesleyan University. The rest of the tournament following the opening round will be held in Montgomery, Ala.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.