For the first time in school history, Columbia College’s soccer team is playing in the NAIA national tournament. In order to keep dreams of a title alive, though, the Cougars must defeat the defending national champions.
The 10th-seeded Cougars play seventh seed University of Mobile (Ala.) at 5 p.m. today at the Olathe District Activity Center Soccer Complex in Olathe, Kan.
The winner plays in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. on Saturday against No. 2 Rio Grande (Ohio), a 2-1 winner against No. 15 Virginia Intermont on Thursday.
Columbia College matches up well with Mobile. The Rams (15-4) and the Cougars (15-6) have defeated Baker and lost to Mid-Continent. The Rams have been on a nine-game winning streak since their loss to Mid-Continent on Oct. 4.
“I’m expecting to play against a very good team,” Mobile coach Peter Fuller said. “Everybody we’ve talked to has talked about their all-around athleticism and their ability to play good soccer. Even though we’re seeded higher, we may be the underdog.”
The Cougars, No. 16 in the NAIA national poll, received one of five at-large bids to the tournament based in part on their ranking. A 3-1 loss to Lindenwood in the Region V championship on Nov. 15 denied the Cougars an automatic bid.
“We fully understand that they are capable of beating us,” Fuller said. “They have two or three special players. They are going to be a handful.”
The Cougars are well-rounded: A player from each position was named to the All-Region team. Junior goalie Steve Williams, junior forward Juan Pablo Irrera, freshman midfielder Stephen McMullen and sophomore defender Vladimir Roganovic each earned the honor for Columbia College.
Irrera leads the team with his 16 goals and nine assists. McMullen has 11 goals and three assists.
“A lot of times when you have a good front player like Irrera you have a good compliment, a real special player,” Fuller said. “(Ben) Boehner seems like that guy, and if we aren’t on, we’ll be kicking the ball out of the back of the net, because we know their players are capable of hurting us in a couple of ways.”
The Rams received an automatic bid as the Region XIII champions. They defeated Auburn University-Montgomery (Ala.) 3-1 to earn the title.
The Rams’ leading scorer is freshman Dean Logan, who has 10 goals and one assist. The Rams also have two All-American defenders.
“I wouldn’t say we have a superstar,” Fuller said. “I think our biggest asset is our collective will and ability to play together. We have 14 guys who have all scored goals. It’s more of success by committee.”