KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Tomorrow, the Sabercats Men's Soccer Team kicks off their return bid for the NCCAA DII national title.
The tournament has a new format. Each team will play each other, and the team with the best record advances. In the event of a tie, goal difference, goals scored, and goals allowed are among the tie-breaking factors.
Maranatha will play at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow and Thursday, taking on Randall first and Pensacola second.
This year's edition of the national finale has six bona fide contenders, starting with three from Pool A:
#5 Maranatha (8-7-2)
Indisputably, Maranatha's region is the strongest at the national level. Of the last eight NCCAA DII National Championships, seven have had a North Region representative, and five of the last eight champions have come from the North. While regional strength doesn't influence the power ratings, but the point is this: the Sabercats have been tested for years against national contenders at the regional level. They will look to capitalize on that experience at the national stage.
The similarities of this year to the Sabercats' first national title in 2014 are notable: both years, the Sabercats lost to Moody at the regional stage. Both years, the Sabercats were selected as an at-large recipient and given the #5 seed. Both years, the Sabercats were required to beat the #4 seed and the #1 seed to get to the national final. Both years, the tournament was in Kissimmee. And both years, the group of players were going to the national tournament for the first time in their collegiate careers.
Call it mojo. Call it vibes. Call it whatever you want, but this year's team is different. They have 14 seniors and nine four-year players on the roster. So while the Sabercats may not have the national experience that some have, they know each other. They are cohesive as a group and they have still battled at the regional level with would-be national champions.
This group has been through three years of disappointment and close calls in a competitive region, and you can be sure they will use that experience as fuel to the fire.
#4 Pensacola (12-8-0)
The Eagles have been ranked as the #1 team all season, as they won the national title in 2017. The intercollegiate program is young at Pensacola, but it is built off of numerous years of playing "Collegian" (also known as "intramural") soccer within the school itself. So while they have official games and an official schedule, the tradition of soccer at Pensacola has been alive and well prior to the establishment of the intercollegiate program.
The Eagles outlasted Bob Jones University in a gritty South Region Championship a couple of weekends ago, and like MBU, they have seen mixed results in the midst of a competitive schedule.
Seven players from the 2017 national championship team have returned for the 2019 season. That experience, coupled with the still-recent passing of former head coach Dr. Fred Johnson, could give the Eagles inspiration as they look to reclaim their national title.
#1 Randall (14-3-0)
The Saints have won their first-ever NCCAA regional championship by topping Kansas Christian for the Southwest Region Title. That victory came as an exclamation point to a 14-3 season, giving Randall both momentum and the #1 seed going into the tournament. Despite their dominant record, the Saints are still yet to establish proven competence outside of NCCAA competition. They are 14-2 against NCCAA schools this season, and those schools are primarily from their region.
With their schedule in mind, it's of no wonder that Randall leads the NCCAA DII with an average of over six goals per game. But they will face the Sabercats' third-best defense in the NCCAA, as MBU has conceded just 1.35 goals/game this year.
In short: Randall has proven themselves formidable. But what will they do outside of their region?
Randall has qualified for the national tournament six times since 2005, but this is the first time they have earned a berth as a region champion.
Pool A at a glance:
|Seed||Location||Qualifying Method||Record||NCCAA Power Rating|
|#1 Randall||Moore, Okla.||Southwest Champion||14-3-0||4.733|
|#4 Pensacola||Pensacola, Fla.||South Champion||12-8-0||2.931|
|#5 Maranatha||Watertown, Wis.||At-Large (North)||8-7-2||2.484|
To follow the games at the 2019 tournament, visit mbusabercats.com/schedule.