Oklahoma Wesleyan’s Men’s Soccer team returned for their final season in the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference this fall. Finishing the conference with a 4-1 record and the overall season with a 14-5-2 record, the Eagles proved once again they are a team to be reckoned with.
With an automatic bid for the NAIA National Championship at stake, Bellevue University delivered a heartbreaking defeat after 110 minutes and eight rounds of penalties in the final game of the conference championship.
The Eagles’ journey to Nationals seemed uncertain until it was announced OKWU had received the No. 5 At-Large bid to compete in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
No. 20 seed Oklahoma Wesleyan hosted the No. 21 seed University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, which ended in a disappointing 1-0 loss for the Eagles. Both teams had 16 shots, with USAO taking a six to four shot on goal lead.
“Looking back at the season, we would have changed our approach in terms of placing more urgency on the importance of every game.”
-Head Coach Jamie Peterson
“I think we let a couple games early in the season slip and those game ultimately cost us, which resulted in playing a more difficult opponent in the first round of the national tournament.”
But fitness and stamina weren’t the problem in Peterson’s mind. The problem laid in overall game execution.
“I think our fitness was good,” Peterson said. “Looking down the stretch of the year, playing in the conference final against Bellevue in overtime, our boys were very fit and their boys were bent over hurting. It was just the unluckiness of going to a shoot out in that game. Against the University of Science and Arts, I think our teams were equally fit, however USAO executed more than what we did.”
The Eagles lit up the All-MCAC award list earning two of the highest individual awards. In addition, the Eagles had six first teamers, three second teamers, and 12 Scholar-Athletes.
Lucas Cordeiro (known as B.H. by his teammates) was a season standout, earning the Offensive Player of the Year, All-MCAC First Team, Most Assists (10), Most Shots On Goal (32), and second place for Most Goals (10). Cordeiro, a senior forward originally from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, also earned a spot on the MCAC Scholar-Athlete list.
Ivan Ristic also shined this season, earning the Defensive Player of the Year, All-MCAC First Team, MCAC Scholar-Athlete, and fifth in the conference for game-winning goals. Ristic, a junior defender from Belgrade, Serbia, also helped his team pull in the number three ranking for total shutouts.
“Lucas and Ivan have both put in time over the years, they’ve trusted the system and have been good players for us,” Peterson said. “Lucas has been one of the more unselfish players on the field. Ivan has set himself apart, just being a very technical defender that doesn’t just defend, but is also able to push goals in with free kicks and set pieces. Both have just put in the extra time to get to a higher level and they deserve all the credit.”
Senior Ben Williams was recognized for the Champion of Character honor at the 2014 Men’s Soccer National Championship Opening Round banquet. Williams is one of the 31 athletes named Champion of Character nationally for men’s soccer this season.
This highly prestigious honor is given to players that exemplify the five core values of the NAIA: Integrity, Respect, Responsibility, Sportsmanship and Servant Leadership.
Williams, a native of Liverpool, England, also landed a spot on the Scholar-Athlete list, which requires at least a 3.25 cumulative grade point average.
Jack McGowan managed to snag some top titles this season, which include a spot on the All-MCAC First Team, Most Points (30), Most Goals (14), Most Shots (49), MCAC Scholar-Athlete, and second place for game winning goals (3). McGowan is a junior forward from Liverpool, England and landed a season high hat trick in the Eagles’ game against Central Christian (Kan.).
Midfielders Perica Obradovic and Daniel Carney both landed spots on the All-MCAC First Team, in addition to OKWU goalkeeper Luka Stojanovic.
Forward Aleksander Simovic and defenders Nemaja Zalad and Luka Milicevic made the All-MCAC Second Team list.
Previously unmentioned Scholar-Athletes include Aaron Terrill, Vinicius De Lima Veilela, Jarrad Hall, Luka Milicevic, Darko Nikolic, Perica Obradovic, Tyler Profitt, Luka Stojanovic and Nemanja Zalad.
“I think all the guys would say they couldn’t have done this without their teammates,” Peterson explained. “The team having success over the past years has helped them with being able to get individual accolades as well. It is a team accomplishment.”
Peterson is not unfamiliar with honors of his own, landing the MCAC Coach of the Year award twice and in 2011 he was recognized as the NCCAA Central Regional Coach of the Year.
LOOKING TOWARD NEXT SEASON
Stepping off the field and heading home for winter break can be hard on some players, but Peterson suggests everyone is ready for a well-needed break.
“Over the winter break I just want everybody to take a step away and take a break from it all. We’ll start conditioning, strengthening, and doing speed drills once we’re back, but we’ve spent a lot of time together, and sometimes players and coaches both just need a break from each other to regroup and to make a big push for next year.”
Many college programs provide athletes with a summer workout to follow, and OKWU is no expectation. Encouraging players to stay active and improve tactically, Peterson doesn’t restrict his players from venturing out into summer leagues.
Many coaches across America have grown increasingly hesitant to release their stars athletes to join summer leagues, like the Premier Development League, due to the chance of an injury. However, Peterson doesn’t plan on changing his stance on letting his players play at the highest level possible.
“I think every coach has a different approach to the summer and for me I never want to take away an opportunity for an individual,” Peterson said. “A lot of times for the individuals that have aspirations of playing beyond college, they need to play during the summer because that’s where they get real exposure.”
Several of Peterson’s players have traveled outside of Oklahoma to follow their dream of playing PDL, and the risk has paid off.
“It’s a good learning experience,” Peterson explained. “The speed of game is faster during the summer, so the ones that have gone and played have come back better players.”
Beyond PDL, some of the graduating seniors are looking for their next adventure in soccer; including standout star Cordeiro, who has trained with a USL soccer team earlier this year.
SAYING GOODBYE TO THE MCAC
This season marks the end of an era for OKWU, as they leave the MCAC behind and look forward to their new start in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. This is the first time in the 124-year history of the KCAC they will expand outside of Kansas. The last expansion came in 1999, when the University of Saint Mary joined the league.
The KCAC referred to the move as an opportunity to “grow its geographic footprint into Oklahoma.” OKWU will become the 11th school in the conference.
Bigger in size, the KCAC will present new challenges to the Eagles, but that is another reason to be excited, Coach Peterson explained.
“I think it’s going to be a battle at the top of the league…We expect to go in there and compete right away for a championship.”
-Head Coach Jamie Peterson
“I think it’s going to be a battle at the top of the league,” Peterson said. “Having a longer conference season means that you have a few more rivals than what we’ve had in the MCAC. We expect to go in there and compete right away for a championship, although we understand that there are some good teams that have given us trouble in the past, but we look forward to the challenge.”
With OKWU’s departure from the MCAC also ends a long time conference rivalry with Bellevue University. A rivalry in which fans and players alike anticipate all season. Matt Briggs, Head Men’s Soccer Coach for Bellevue University and Peterson are not ready to end the rivalry just yet.
“Coach Briggs and I have talked already, and we’ve been discussing possibly playing next year,” Peterson admitted. “We like the rivalry; Bellevue is always a challenging team for us and they have a different playing style. A style that we see quite a bit at the National Tournament, so it’s good for us to continue to play them to prepare us for our goals.”
CONTINUING SUPPORT FOR TEAM MASON
If you’ve been following the OKWU Men’s Soccer team this season, you’ve most likely heard of one of their biggest fans, Mason Green, and the program’s fight to help the 11-year-old soccer player face a difficult battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Green became close with the coaches and players through private soccer lessons with his older brother, Spence. Upon hearing about Green’s diagnosis, the program quickly rallied to show their support in a number of ways. Early in the season the team canceled a regular practice and invited the Greens to participate in a special scrimmage.
Afterward, Green watched players shave the ‘C-cut’ into their hair to mimic his own style, a result of a brain surgery to remove part of his tumor. The team also gave a signed game jersey to Green.
“Mason is an amazing kid,” Williams said. “I have had experience with cancer in my family and I know how hard it is to go through. He is always in the team’s prayers and our thoughts; we played this season for him.”
The program continues to support the Greens and follow Mason’s health. Peterson is currently awaiting new updates on Mason’s recent health scare.
“Mason has been back home, but recently he had a seizure the other day, and they had to fly him back to St. Jude’s for testing,” Peterson said. “We are waiting to see how the test results go. Obviously any time things go out of the norm, it’s scary. Mason is a tough kid and we’re praying for him and hoping he pulls out a miracle.”
“Mason is an amazing kid..He is always in the team’s prayers and our thoughts.”
-Captain Ben Williams