December 4, 2011
Senior forward Travis Wall (Columbus/Upper Arlington) and sophomore midfielder Paolo Bucci (Dublin/Bishop Watterson) scored goals that gave Ohio Wesleyan a 2-0 first-half lead, and the Battling Bishop defense held off a determined Calvin squad during the second half as the Bishops defeated the Knights 2-1 in the NCAA Division III national championship game on Saturday in San Antonio, Texas.
The national championship is Ohio Wesleyan’s second in men’s soccer and the fifth overall for the Battling Bishops.
Sophomore midfielder Jon Stegner (Powell/Olentangy Liberty), who had given the Bishops a 1-0 lead in Friday’s semifinal victory, had a good chance to repeat that feat on Saturday, when he got around Calvin netminder Michael Dolan and had a good look at the Knight goal, but Calvin defender Lawrence Murray cleared the ball off the line in the 10th minute.
Just over 2 minutes later, the Bishops preserved the scoreless tie in similar fashion when Calvin’s Zach Willis connected on a header off a Knight corner kick, but the Ohio Wesleyan defense cleared the ball off the line.
Ohio Wesleyan’s next good opportunity came in the 30th minute, when senior midfielder Dylan Stone (Easton, Conn./Barlow) and Bucci had shots blocked by the Calvin defense during a flurry of activity in the Knight penalty area.
The Bishops took the lead in the 39th minute when Bucci saved the ball from going out of bounds along the end line. The ball went out to Wall near the top of the box, and Wall squeezed off a shot that found the right side of the Calvin net.
“It was really similar to the first goal yesterday,” Wall said. “Paolo made a good play to keep it in bounds. I took a touch and tried to shoot it as fast as I could, and fortunately for us, it went in.”
Less than 2 minutes later, Bucci jumped on a loose ball and found the back of the net to increase the Bishop lead to 2-0.
“The second goal was lucky,” Bucci said. “The ball came out, I picked it up and beat one guy, and was lucky to put it where I wanted.”
The Knights were no strangers to comebacks during their run to the championship game — in one contest, sending the game into overtime with a late goal while playing a man short — and the title tilt would be no different.
Just over 5 minutes into the second half, Willis sent the ball into the box to Travis Vegter, who finished in front to bring Calvin within 2-1.
“I was disappointed we gave up the goal so early,” said Bishop head coach Jay Martin. “I thought it was a soft goal, but credit to Calvin — they made it happen.”
Calvin would assemble a few more threats during the second half, but junior goalkeeper Paul Hendricks (Columbus/Worthington Kilbourne) made some key saves. Hendricks grabbed a Calvin header after a corner kick in the 67th minute, made a diving save of a redirection in the box by Calvin’s Brad Heethuis in the 79th minute, and came up with a big save after a Joe Broekhuizen through ball freed Heethuis on a breakaway with 4:20 remaining for the last of his 4 saves on the night.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game,” Martin said. “Calvin plays a style that is difficult to play against.”
While the national championship is Martin’s second at Ohio Wesleyan, his two title teams could not be more different.
“This isn’t the best team we’ve had in terms of individual talent,” Martin said, referencing his 1998 team after it won the national championship, “but over the past four weeks, this has been the best team I’ve had.
“These guys were better than the 1998 team,” Martin said of his 2011 squad. “At this point of my career, I measure a successful season by how much fun I’ve had coaching, and I’ve had more fun with this group than any in the past 10-15 years. I didn’t want this season to end.”
Wall, who scored first-half goals in both the semifinal and championship games, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player on offense, while Stone was selected as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player on the defensive end.
They were joined on the all-tournament team by senior forward Matt Bonfini (Dublin/Coffman), Bucci, and senior back Andrew Miller (Medina).