WATERTOWN, Wis. -- The 2017 season brought highs and lows for a young but effective Sabercats team.
During the regular season, the Sabercats faced what was arguably their toughest schedule in recent history. Thirteen of the 17 opponents were from the NCAA DIII, and, as Coach Jeff Pill put it, there were no "easy games."
On top of that, the team was young. Of the 27 rostered players, only 9 had more than 1 year of experience coming into the season.
Despite the inexperience, MBU made progress, taking three consecutive wins over Lakeland, Finlandia, and Ripon in September. The Sabercats posted consecutive 2-1 comeback wins after trailing both Finlandia and Ripon. In October, the team posted their first regular-season win over Moody Bible Institute since a 2-1 win over the Archers in 2009.
After a noteworthy 8-9-0 showing through the rigorous regular-season schedule, the Sabercats entered the NCCAA North Region Championship as the #2 seed behind an impressive Providence University College squad.
After a dramatic late winner from an unlikely hero to win the semifinal (story), the Sabercats fought to the end of a difficult championship game against Providence. The Pilots were strong from top to bottom, and they came away with a 1-0 win over the Sabercats after an early goal from Romaine Francis. So, after a thrilling two days of action in Dubuque, Iowa, the Sabercats saw their season end to PUC, who would go on to take a third-place final ranking from the NCCAA DII National Tournament.
Disappointing? Yes. The Sabercats made it to the regional championship for just the third time since 2010, and it would have been their first regional title since 2008.
But in the mind of Coach Pill, the program made progress.
"Many of the guys stepped up their ability to claim responsibility for their own progress," said Pill. "By the end of the season, I was able to relinquish much of the teaching-coaching to the players, allowing the game and training environment to teach. It was very satisfying to witness. Of course, Brett [Cournoyer] and Asa [St. Lawrence] were driving much of it as the captains, but the assistant coaches and players themselves all seemed to be 'buying in.'
"I remain profoundly grateful for the opportunity to work with this great group of guys. Arriving at training each day is a joy. The guys are focused and passionate about their personal development, and they conduct themselves with eternity in mind.
- Record: 9-10-0
- NCCAA Record: 4-3-0
- NCCAA Regional Finish: 2nd
- Final NCCAA National Ranking: 10th
- NCCAA All-America Selections:
- Nathan Akers (2nd Team)
- NCCAA All-Region Selections:
- Nathan Akers, Brett Cournoyer
- AD3I All-Independent Selections:
- Nathan Akers, Brett Cournoyer, Caleb Hockema, Andrew Taylor
- NCCAA Scholar-Athletes:
- Brendan Burckart, Brett Cournoyer, Daniel Kroll, Randal Larson, Kevin Risma, Asa St. Lawrence, Andrew Taylor, Steven Thompson, John Zockoll
The Sabercats had 6 players finish their 4-year careers this season: Randal Larson, Brett Cournoyer, Matthew Sheeley, Nathan Akers, Daniel Kroll, and Steven Thompson all donned the Blue and Gold for the final time in that rainy regional championship game.
However, despite the substantial graduating class, Coach Pill is excited for the road ahead.
"We've had two great recruiting classes in a row," said Pill, in regards to the future. "Many of the younger players have been getting significant playing time during games, but many also got valuable training time and experience in JV games. We were deeper than we have been in a long time, with a lot of guys getting varsity experience.
"As always, it will be important for us to come into the pre-season fit so that we can spend more time organizing the team and getting prepared tactically," continued Pill. "Also, being able to deal with physical, combative teams remains a real need for us. Time spent in the off-season in physical preparation will be essential. As always, being more technically proficient is also a real need."
- Nathan Akers and Tyler Nelson were the main goalscorers for the Sabercats this year, as they notched 6 and 7 goals, respectively. Akers earned his first All-America selection this year. Nelson had a memorable game against Lincoln Christian on Oct. 10, as the sophomore recorded his first career hat-trick against the Red Lions.
- Caleb Hockema and Andrew Taylor turned out to be a couple of mainstays in the Sabercats' defense. Both were named as AD3I All-Independent First Team selections. The duo's staunch defending helped the Sabercats to 3 shutout wins on the season and a 2.03 goals-allowed average - the 6th-best mark in program history.*
- Brett Cournoyer and Asa St. Lawrence played the entire season in the center of midfield. The two captains controlled the flow of possession for MBU and were critical to the Sabercats' overall organization.
To learn more about the team, visit their team page by clicking here.
*Men's Soccer records date back to 2003.