For three days, MidAmerica Nazarene wrestled with the pain of its season being over after an upset loss against Oklahoma Baptist in a penalty kick shootout Nov. 17 in Olathe during the opening round of the NAIA men’s soccer national championship.
The Pioneers, who played without starters Aurelien Norest and Jeremie Koffi, were seeded No. 7 and harbored hopes of a lengthy postseason run.
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Instead, as last week dawned, MidAmerica’s players solidified Thanksgiving travel arrangements and scrubbed plans for a season-ending trip to the Emory Folmar YMCA Soccer Complex in Montgomery, Ala., for the NAIA National Soccer Championship.
“Devastated is a great word to describe it,” MidAmerican Nazarene coach Kevin Wardlaw said.
A funny thing happened on the way home for the holidays.
Oklahoma Baptist withdrew from the national tournament Nov. 21 after it was discovered it had used an ineligible player, which prompted NAIA officials to award the vacated national tourney spot to the Pioneers.
MidAmerica was Alabama-bound after all, though that meant several players had to return to campus, and gear, which had been checked in Monday, had to be reissued.
Senior midfielder Gyer Vierthaler didn’t learn the news for 24 hours. He was on a family trip near the Canadian border and had to connect through Minneapolis and meet the Pioneers in Montgomery.
“The guys were incredibly excited and rejuvenated,” Wardlaw said. “A lot of them, even myself, were still in disbelief, but there was definitely a sense of appreciation for the opportunity.”
Life had already toughened up the Pioneers once this season when reserve Sean Middleton died in a motorcycle accident a week before the season began.
Armed with that perspective on soccer and life, MidAmerica knew there might be some detractors as it headed to the national tourney, but Wardlaw’s crew was determined to make of the most of its second chance.
During the second round Tuesday, the Pioneers were in a shootout for the third straight game, but prevailed on freshman centerback Alvaro Beltran’s fifth-round conversion.
MidAmerica was redeemed and “came out like gangbusters,” Wardlaw said, in the quarterfinals, upsetting host and No. 2 Auburn-Montgomery 1-0 on Norest’s 55th-minute goal.
Now, the team that sat dejected and despondent on its home field less than two weeks earlier — some players sobbing for a season cut too short — has reached the national semifinals.
MidAmerica, 13-1-9, battles No. 11 Mobile (Ala.), 16-4-2, at 2:30 p.m. today for a berth in the title game.