Columbia College soccer head coach John Klein has said that if his team reaches 13 shutouts in a season, it’s usually a successful year.
Five games in, the No. 11 Cougars are on pace to cross that threshold with flying colors.
Up nine spots from preseason rankings in the first regular-season NAIA Coaches’ Top 25 poll released Wednesday, CC celebrated by downing No. 24 Benedictine 1-0 in Columbia to continue an unbeaten start to the year.
Columbia tripled the Ravens’ shot count and scored the game’s only goal through senior midfielder Mako Makoanyane in the 34th minute. Makoanyane powered a shot past Benedictine goalkeeper Issac Jenkins from short range after a scramble in the 18-yard box.
Wednesday was the Cougars’ third shutout of the season and one of their most dominant displays, too. Klein said that the win was about as close to perfect as his team could’ve possibly played, and that his defensive back line is already among one of the best he’s coached.
“They’re getting so good back there, so good,” Klein said of his “four C’s” line of Caden Castello, Casey Bartlett-Scott, Carson Lindsey and Charles Norman. “There’s nothing getting past those four C’s, and they can attack. They’re playing superb soccer.”
After spending the first third of the game finding a way to turn a defensive-first philosophy into goals, once Makoanyane scored it was clear the Cougars’ defense would be dictating the pace of the game.
Benedictine only had three shots after the CC goal, all of which came late in the second half when the Ravens sent men forward to rescue a draw from the match.
But before Benedictine could even face the Cougars’ defense, they would have to go through the midfielder partnership of Makoanyane and Lesotho countryman Lesia Thetsane, two high-energy, box-to-box midfielders who both had superb games of their own.
“I do get tired...but I just push it for the team,” Makoanyane said . “(I) just make sure that nothing goes in the back of our net and help the team attacking as well. We just wanted as early as possible to get a goal...we didn’t want, like, a pretty goal or anything, we just wanted something to go into the net.”
Columbia’s toughest test yet awaits Friday: after three games in 10 days already, they’ll host No. 5 Oklahoma Wesleyan at Owens Field. After a 7-0 blasting last year at the hands of the Eagles in Oklahoma, CC is out to settle the score and make a statement to the rest of the country.
“From the start, we set a goal for ourselves that we wanted to take this team back into the top 10,” Makoanyane said. “(Oklahoma Wesleyan) is going to be a really, really tough opponent, so we’ve still got to come back to practice. We’re looking forward to that game.”
Second-half goals disrupt CC women’s soccer comeback
It’s been a grind-it-out past couple of weeks for Columbia College women’s soccer.
Playing a brutal nonconference schedule to begin the season that featured three top-15 ranked opponents, it would’ve been unreasonable to expect the Cougars to be 6-0 entering American Midwest Conference play.
But as their nonconference slate ended with a 3-1 defeat to No. 5-ranked Benedictine College in Columbia on Wednesday, CC finds itself wishing a few other things went its way.
Goals from Emily Ambuul, Isabelle Wilhelm and NAIA-leading goalscorer Nicole Kelly downed the Cougars and offset a first career goal from CC freshman Jewel Morelan, leaving Columbia with a 3-3 record entering AMC play.
The Ravens are the nation’s top goal-scoring team with 35 goals through seven games, but the Cougars nearly matched their firepower tit-for-tat, notching six shots on goal to their opponents’ seven.
Those type of stats — combined with the narrow margin of their losses this year — make Klein believe Wednesday’s game was one that should’ve gone in the victory column.
“I ended that game thinking that was a winnable soccer game,” the head coach said. “I don’t think there should’ve been one (goal) go in. I don’t know if we should’ve scored more... (but) we were attacking, we were confident.”
Benedictine’s goals all went in by some combination of skill and CC misfortune. Ambuul’s first-half header to begin was simple enough, but Wilhelm’s goal was an unremarkable long-range effort that spilled through the legs of Columbia goalkeeper Victoria Heus.
Morelan did get a goal back in the 65th minute after a botched clearance from the Ravens’ goalie landed in her path, but Kelly responded 11 minutes later by blasting an unsavable shot past Heus into the top-left corner to restore Benedictine’s two-goal cushion.
“Certainly, we respected them, but in the first half, we feared them,” Klein said of Benedictine. “We had good shape, we were disciplined... I’m proud of their performance, but I absolutely would not concede that we play that team again (that) we would lose.”
Morelan, meanwhile, was giddy to get on the scoresheet for the first time since moving to Columbia from Wentzville. She said that Klein in the post-game talk spoke of using the frustrations of non-conference play to their advantage in conference.
“They weren’t really dangerous, honestly. They had a few shots on goal, and unluckily they went in,” Morelan said. “Our next 15 games, we will win. I’m pretty confident that we’re going to go 15-3.”