On Oct. 5, a Wednesday evening in Allendale, Michigan, Grand Valley State, the three-time defending NCAA Division II women’s soccer champion, suffered its only loss of the season. The Lakers fell 2-1 to Florida Tech, giving up two goals in the second half.

“Florida Tech came up here and played very well,” Grand Valley State coach Jeff Hosler said. “It was certainly an eye-opening experience for our kids in understanding you can’t take shortcuts, particularly in the details of the game. We did that a few times against Florida Tech and they exposed us of that. It is a big reason why we have that game on our schedule to begin with. The kids have responded well. In my three years here, this is the best defensive group we have had in terms of the way we are organized, and players are playing consistently.”

Since the loss, Grand Valley State (18-1-1) has won nine straight, allowing just one goal over that time.

The Lakers recorded one of those shutouts on Friday, beating Ohio Dominican 2-0 in the semifinals of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament.

In that game, junior forward Gabriella Mencotti scored her 25th goal of the season.

“We overcame that obstacle,” Mencotti said of the loss a month ago. “We are holding each other accountable at practice to make sure nothing like that happens again this season.”

Grand Valley State plays in the GLIAC championship game Sunday and then finds out 6:30 p.m. ET Monday in the NCAA Division II women’s soccer selection show who it will play in the NCAA tournament.

The Lakers may begin their quest to win a fourth straight title either Thursday or Friday when the first-round games are played.

“I think overall as a team, we really enjoy this time of the year because this is crunch time,” Mencotti said. “This is when you are playing the best of the best. I think it is really exciting. If you win you move on, and if you lose, you are done. This is when we push ourselves to be the best, and this is when we challenge each other and hold each other accountable to be our best version and go as far as we can.”

In Mencotti’s eyes, the Lakers are a family.

“We have each other’s back,” she said. “Coming to practice, everybody looks forward to it because we have so much fun. We are such a competitive group of girls that every day we have fun competing with each other and pushing each other to be our best.”

There are a couple of reasons why Mencotti has already scored 15 more goals than last year. She credits senior midfielder Marti Corby for getting her the ball in great positions to score. Hard work by Mencotti is another reason.

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“The biggest difference is Gabby’s acceptance of trying to be her best version every day,” Hosler said. “She had two good years to this point. This year, she is having a dominate year. Her mentality all year has been that she wants the ball and she wants to make plays. That has been a big difference for us because she can score a goal in a variety of ways.”

With the start of the NCAA tournament less than a week away, the likelihood of the Lakers winning another national title will be a topic of discussion. The Lakers, though, don’t go through their season with those thoughts.

“As cliché as it is, we really do focus on the daily task,” Hosler said. “Evaluate and reflect how training goes today and what we did well and what we have to improve upon our next time out. This year, we talked about competing to out-perform our last time out on an individual level and collectively as a team. If we succeed at that, we will see improvement and continually get better. We also know there are a lot of good teams across the country. If we are not improving, I know they are, and they will catch up to us.”

Wingate men’s soccer team ready for NCAA tournament

Wingate senior defender Alex Nelson is fairly certain where he will be 6 p.m. ET Monday. It will be similar to the two previous years around this same time of the month.

Nelson and his teammates will be gathered together to watch the NCAA Division II men’s soccer selection show.

Wingate, 14-1 and ranked No. 1 in the Southeast Region, may receive one of the top two seeds in its region.

“It is an exciting day,” Nelson said. “For the past two years, we have got the boys together and sat around and watched the selection-day process. Overall, it is exciting that the season may be prolonged, and we get a chance to play against the best universities in America.”

Senior Alex Nelson is an anchor for Wingate's defense.
Ed Cottingham | Wingate Athletics
Senior Alex Nelson is an anchor for Wingate's defense.
Wingate's players will be eager to get back on the field either Thursday or Friday for their first-round game. The last time out, the Bulldogs lost their only match of the season, falling to Brevard 1-0 in the first round of the South Atlantic Conference tournament.

“We will rest up through the weekend with some light training, a day or two off and then get ourselves ready Monday morning for the NCAA tournament,” Wingate coach Gary Hamill said. “Obviously, our defense has been the heart and soul of our team, only conceding six or seven goals all season. Not to use clichés, but your defense does end up winning the championships.”

Nelson is one reason why the Bulldogs have a strong defense, Hamill said. He calls him the best defender the team has had the last three years. That hard work has helped him be a team captain since his sophomore year.

“It has meant a lot to me, and getting it my sophomore year was a great achievement,” Nelson said. “Also, I know with that comes great responsibility, and, day in and day out, I have to set an example for the boys. It is all about going out and playing as hard as I can and, hopefully, be influence for the boys to follow suit.”

As for his defense, Nelson simply plays hard in the back row.

“I am not all about the stops and stuff,” Nelson said. “I just like to go out and play. It is just about the drive to win and playing well and the team to be as successful as it can.”

NW Missouri State’s Kyle Zimmerman overcomes first interceptions of the season

Northwest Missouri State senior quarterback Kyle Zimmerman entered the 10th game of the season without throwing an interception. In the first nine games, he put the ball in the air 271 times, completing 193 for 2,636 yards and 31 touchdowns. It is improbable to think a starting quarterback could go all 11 games in the regular season without an interception.

Zimmerman’s attempt at the unthinkable achievement ended on his 14th pass Saturday afternoon at Fort Hays State.

With the Bearcats leading 14-0 late in the second quarter, Zimmerman threw his first interception of the season. He threw another one midway in the third quarter after he had his nose broken earlier in the third quarter.

Senior quarterback Kyle Zimmerman threw his first interception of the season against Fort Hays State.
Northwest Missouri State Athletics
Senior quarterback Kyle Zimmerman threw his first interception of the season against Fort Hays State.
“I made a couple of poor throws,” Zimmerman said. “I wish I could have one of them back, for sure, put a little more loft on it, and I think we could have completed it for a big gain there.”

Still holding a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter, Zimmerman overcame the interceptions and threw a 10-yard touchdown pass with just under 10 minutes left that gave Northwest Missouri State a 21-0 lead.

“It was huge,” Zimmerman said. “Those guys did some great things defensively. I didn’t execute the way I wanted to. But the great thing about this game is we have another week next week to come out and be better.”

Northwest Missouri State went on to win 28-7 at Fort Hays to improve to 10-0 this season. The win also allowed the Bearcats to break their school record for consecutive wins with 25 straight victories.