NCAA champ St. Olaf eliminates Washington in national soccer semifinal

SALEM, Va. — The Shoremen’s historically great soccer season ended late Friday afternoon in the national semifinals, under gray skies and in the rain, 325 miles away from their Chestertown campus.

The Oles of No. 11-ranked St. Olaf College, who had traveled more than 1,000 miles from Minnesota for the NCAA Division III Final Four on the turf of Roanoke College’s Kerr Stadium, scored twice in the span of 5 minutes, 7 seconds in the second half on the way to a 3-1 victory.

Washington (14-3-6) evened the score at 1-all on senior Ben Strine’s unassisted goal in the 55th minute, but eventual national champion St. Olaf regained the lead for good in the 74th minute on the second of senior Casey McCloskey’s two tallies.

McCloskey, who would be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player, also was credited with an assist on Michael Nelson’s insurance goal in the 79th minute.

“St. Olaf was just a little too much for us late in the second half and nicked the game from us. Credit to them,” Washington head coach Roy Dunshee said in an interview for NCAA.com on Friday night.

Dunshee and his St. Olaf counterpart Justin Oliver, in separate post-match interviews, agreed that the Shoremen had more touches on the ball and had more chances out front early.

They led 5-1 in shots after Harrison Malone’s try in the 17th minute clanked off the crossbar.

McCloskey broke through for the Oles in the 21st minute with an absolutely brilliant goal from the left side at the corner of the 18 that curled just inside the far post and beyond the reach of net-minder Anthony Pinto (two saves).

St. Olaf (20-3-3) came into the match having scored 72 goals — fifth most in the country.

McCloskey’s first goal made it 73, establishing a program record.

St. Olaf’s Peter Forseth had four saves up to that point to keep Washington off the board.

In the 10th minute, Forseth, who was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player, got a fingertip to a shot from the top of the box by Malone to get the ball out for a corner and, from the ensuing kick, he dove to stop a header by Sebastien Linares.

Seven minutes later, Forseth produced a diving save to stop Tyler Davidson’s curling effort from the right side of the box and then Malone from 6 yards out fired the rebound off the crossbar.

McCloskey’s goal with 20 minutes, 6 seconds elapsed stood as the lone tally of an opening half that saw St. Olaf outshoot Washington, 11-7, although Washington led 4-3 in shots on frame.

Washington again came out more quickly to start the second half and was rewarded with the tying goal in the 55th minute. Malone took the ball away in the Oles’ defensive third and one-touched to Strine, who slotted the ball home.

Fifteen minutes later, St. Olaf freshman Ryan Bechtel nearly netted the go-ahead goal, but his right-footed drive from the right side of the box grazed the top of the bar.

Just three minutes later, Bechtel set up McCloskey’s second goal of the afternoon — and what held up to be the game-winner. With a left-footed pass from the right side, Bechtel found McCloskey with space about 12 yards out for an open shot into the upper center part of the net.

McCloskey also was involved with the Oles’ third goal. He lofted a cross from the left to the back post, where senior Jordan Oberholtzer sent the ball into the middle for Nelson near the penalty kick spot.

In his interview with NCAA.com,  Dunshee, the Shoremen’s head coach of 12 years, described the match as “super competitive” and “a bit of a chess match.”

Overall, he said, it was a really good college soccer match.

“I thought we had a few chances in the first half that we should have cashed in on, but didn’t,” Dunshee told NCAA.com.

“We answered in the second half,” he said, “and then they hit us with a little bit of firepower that we weren’t ready for.”

Dunshee said he could not fault the Shoremen’s effort in any way.

“I thought our players were fantastic, as they have been all season,” he said.

Dunshee said this team, which includes Kent County High School graduate Mayowa Taiwo of Chestertown, is the finest team that he has ever been a part of — as either a player or a coach.

“They play the best football,” he said, “but more importantly, they love each other and they care for each other.”

He added: “Of course we’re disappointed in the moment. But when we have a little time to reflect, I think we’re going to look back on this and remember it as one of the great times in our lives.”

Washington, which advanced to the round of 16 in 2021, was playing in its first Final Four and single-season program record 23rd match.

This was the Shoremen’s only loss away from home. Their previous two losses this season were on the Kibler pitch of Roy Kirby Jr. Stadium against their conference foes from Johns Hopkins.

Seniors Malone and first-team All-America defender Chris Comber were named to the all-tournament team.

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St. Olaf, also a first-time national semifinalist, went on to defeat No. 13 Amherst in the title match Sunday, 2-1 , in extra time.

McCloskey scored the golden goal 68 seconds into the first overtime.

The win was St. Olaf’s program-record 20th of the season — breaking a tie with the 2021 team — and extended the program’s record-long unbeaten streak to 22 matches (19-0-3).

The national title was the first by a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference  school in men’s soccer and made St. Olaf the western-most program to win the NCAA title since Trinity University of Texas in 2003.

Amherst (17-3-4) was the national runner-up for the third time in the last four seasons, with the loss ending a 13-match unbeaten streak.

On Friday, Amherst advanced after defeating Washington & Lee (15-4-6) on penalty kicks, 2-0,  following a 2-2 draw through 90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute extra periods.

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Washington College was one of four schools remaining in what started out as a 64-school tournament field — 41 slots dedicated to automatic qualifiers like Centennial Conference champion Johns Hopkins and the remaining 23 berths to at-large candidates chosen by the selection committee.

Washington and W&L received at-large bids. 

New England Small College Athletic Conference champion Amherst and Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion St. Olaf gained AQ berths.

 

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