Soccer team clinches conference title

By Carl Ackerman

Tension, sweat, excitement and even some tears set the scene for NIU’s dramatic Big Central Soccer Conference championship game against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Sunday, which came down to a nail-biting finish.

With the score locked 1-1, the game went to overtime, but that didn’t prove to be enough. Consequently, the teams went to the most thrilling part of a soccer game – a shootout.

Per Ekholdt banged in NIU’s third shootout goal to give his team a 2-1 first-place finish in the tournament. Karsten Roy and Mark Siegwald slammed NIU’s other two shootout goals.

What really made the difference in the shootout, as well as the game, was NIU’s MVP goalie Markus Roy, who stopped three of UWM’s four shootout attempts.

“Markus is the MVP without any question,” said coach Willy Roy.

“I felt confident in the shootout,” said Markus Roy. “I have been through five sets of penalty kicks before. It feels great (to win), but it was a team effort. Our defense played really well.

Coach Roy was happy about his teams willingness to win.

“I really liked how when we were down we didn’t give up. I’m really proud of all the boys,” said boss Roy. “This is by far the best tournament I have ever been involved in.

“I think it’s great that we came from a team in last place last year to a first place team this year,” added Roy.

Jerry Pruszynski summed everything up neatly.

“We are the elite of the elite,” said defender Pruszynski.

UWM’s coach Brian Tompkins felt somewhat different, and admitted NIU took UWM off of its finesse style of play.

“I don’t think the quality of play in the final game was indicative of the talent in the conference. It wasn’t really a skillful game,” said Tompkins.

With 9:38 left in regulation, UWM’s Steven Calzavara rolled in a goal past a diving Todd Moore. This put the Huskies up against the wall and a 1-0 deficit, but then the Huskie offense came alive.

Just over two minutes later NIU’s Frank Sparacino dropped a perfect kick in front of the goal to Tony Adolfs, who headed it in to tie the score 1-1.

“I saw the ball, headed it and I didn’t even know it when it went in,” said team captain Adolfs.

After that goal, both teams continued their intense and very physical game which consisted of 74 fouls, seven yellow cards and one red card to UWM late in overtime.

NIU could never had made it this far without beating Louisville 2-0 on Saturday and an aggressive Southern Illinois -Edwardsville 2-1 on Sunday.

“I think our most important game was against (SIU-E),” said Ekholdt, who scored first for NIU on a feed from Dave Weichman at the 18:09 mark.

Karsten blasted in NIU’s second goal on a penalty kick off the goaltender’s hand with just 19:45 left in the game.

“I knew I hit it good enough even though it hit his hand,” said Karsten, who felt the Huskies came out flat.

Coach Roy was pleased NIU beat a good team even though the Huskies did not play sharp.

“We are two very good teams,” said Roy. “It’s too bad one of us had to knock the other out. I think we were a little tense. We should have slowed down and worked like a team more.

“David Pacwa did a great job. He showed the defense what a defender should do,” added Roy.

The defense must have learned something, because they held LU scoreless on the following day.

“Overall our defense played tough today,” said Markus Roy. “They were caught sleeping a couple of times, but that’s my job. I’m there to back them up and they are there to back me up.”

Coach Roy complimented Markus on his nice saves. Roy also complimented John Kelly, Dusty Showers and Ekholdt, but was not completely satisfied with NIU’s efforts.

“For about 20 minutes in the second half, we played as capable as we are capable of playing,” said Roy.

Ekholdt knocked in the first goal from Jim Corno with 9:17 gone. Willy Roy Jr. buried in NIU’s second goal on a point blank shot past the goalie with just 5:22 remaining.

“I think we got taken on NIU’s first goal. It looked like it was about five to seven yards offsides. We had our game plan, but once they scored we couldn’t play our game anymore,” said LU coach Claudio Maldonado. “The last goal resulted because we had to push up, but NIU did play well.”

NIU finished its season with an undefeated record at home. NIU also broke a school record with 15 victories. The Huskies have a chance for a bid to the NCAA tournament, but will not find out until next week.