GNAC Soccer: Northwest Nazarene’s magic run comes to end in elite eight

Northwest Nazarene Goalkeeper (1) Sawyer Price pulls down a shot on the goal | Credit: NNU Soccer

More often than not a cinderella story doesn’t end up with the cinderella team winning the championship. At some point, their storybook season comes to an end. That was the case for the Northwest Nazarene Men’s soccer team on Saturday evening when they took on Colorado State-Pueblo in San Antonio, Texas for the regional final. As the Nighthawks fell, 1-0.

A lot of credit to the improvement that NNU has made this season. They faced the No. 9 Colorado State-Pueblo Thunderwolves earlier this season. The Nighthawks lost that matchup 6-0 in Billings, Montana.

When the two teams met again, the matchup had higher risks with a trip to Seattle on the line. Most of the contest was a back-and-forth battle that didn’t see its first goal until late in the match. Like most of their games this season, the NNU defense had to hold strong.

“It was a great match between two of the top teams in the super region,” said NNU coach John Powell. “The difference between size was minimal, and its just unfortunate that happened on a late penalt kick.”

The Nighthawks had perhaps their best chance to take the lead late in the game in the 86th minute, earning a corner kick from the left side. Lukas Juodkuanaitis swung in a good ball, but a CSU Pueblo defender was able to get their head to it first and clear it away. Not long after, NNU would be called for a penalty in the box, giving the Thunderwolves an opportunity in the 87th. Gabriel Campora stepped up and converted the PK for Pueblo to give them the lead.

For the eight seniors that suited up this season, it marked their final match as a Nighthawk.

“This season was absolutely unreal to be a part of. I have been through more than words can explain in my time at NNU. 3 head coaches and countless obstacles have been thrown at us. To have it all come together in an incredible record breaking season means the world to me,” stated senior forward Jake Levine. “I’ve grown so close to my teammates and every one of them is family to me. It makes it so memorable, and also so heartbreaking to be moving on now. The best thing about this season was winning the GNAC. Going far in the tournament was amazing, but winning our conference at home in front of the fans on senior night was a day that we will all remember for the rest of our lives. I was but a small piece of the puzzle this year, and could not be more proud of our guys for what we did!”

Though the end of the season may always be a disappointing time, there’s no room for disappointment for Northwest Nazarene this season. They made it where no other NNU soccer team has; to the Sweet 16 (third round), and eventually the Elite Eight (regional final). The Nighthawks set a new program record for wins in a season with 15, eclipsing the mark of 14 set by the 2014 team, all of that coming on top of their first GNAC title.

“I don’t think there are enough words to express how proud I am. If you took a look at their achievements, those speak for themselves,” Powell stated. “I think what people don’t see is all the hard work, the sacrifices, the buy in that allowed this group to achieve what they did. I am truly blessed to have gotten to coach this group.”

NNU played the way they have all season, with dominant play from the defense and keeper, as well as attacking the opposing goal as a team. There’s a saying in soccer that team play is the power play, unfortunately, none of the shots for the Nighthawks Midfielders and Forwards broke across the goal line. The Red and Black were able to get four shots, as well as one shot on goal. Sawyer Price came away with five saves throughout the game.

With the loss, the season comes to an end for the Nighthawks, but not before all that history was made. At the end of each season, you take a few days off before shifting the focus toward the next season. That’s just what Northwest Nazarene will do.

“Two main areas for us that we will need to address to keep us in contention for the national tournament,” Powell continued. “We obviously lose a lot of senior leadership, so there is a big opportunity for returning players to step into that role and lead by example on and off the pitch. Secondly, our style of soccer demands that we have more of the ball while still being dangerous in front of goal; that will come through training, film, and a lot of buy in from the guys.”