For Columbia College, the Region V semifinal has been the showstopper.
John Klein, in his fourth season as Cougars men’s soccer coach, has three conference titles and has never lost more than eight games in a season. Ultimately, he says he wants to send the team to the national tournament, but for three straight seasons his team’s hopes have abruptly ended in the semifinal.
The Cougars are looking to change that pattern today when they play defending Region V national champion Baker University at 7 p.m. at Owens Soccer Stadium.
“We have been waiting for the semifinal again,” junior Juan Pablo Irrera said. “Last year the game was unbelievable, sad. We learned from that, and that was the past, Baker is the future.”
The winner plays in Saturday’s championship for a spot in the national tournament in Kansas City on Nov. 19-25.
Looking for another win
The Cougars have defeated the Wildcats once this season 4-3.
Klein said the No. 16 Cougars hope the team play that worked so well in the regular season will translate into success in the postseason.
“A large group of them have lost this game two or three times and they know what’s at stake,” Klein said. “It’s about playing hard and being smart in the back.”
The Cougars (14-5) might appear threatening to the Wildcats (13-6) with players such as Irrera, who was named the American Midwest Conference Player of the Year, and Stephen McMullen, who was given the AMC Freshman of the Year award, as well as four players named to the All-Conference team.
Irrera said he doesn’t mind that lately he has been double- and triple-covered.
“That’s going to be good for the team if defenders are in one area,” Irrera said, “Maybe not good for me, but that’s not a problem. I’m not the only one on Columbia College that can score.”
Baker coach Ron Pulvers said that after losing 10 seniors last year, his team’s weakness is its inexperience.
“Clearly we’re the underdog,” Pulvers said. “My team is very young. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact. As a result we can be vulnerable under pressure, and Columbia College is going to put us under a tremendous amount of pressure.”