The hierarchy of DII soccer went through quite a shakeup last weekend. Wingate — which had one loss in its 2016 championship run — fell by a goal in an early season upset, while the Columbus State women made a strong statement on opening weekend.
Men's soccer: Rollins defeats No. 1-ranked Wingate to open season 1-0-1
Wingate ended 2016 as DII soccer's national champions, and opened 2017 as the No. 1-ranked team. Apparently, someone forgot to notify Rollins.
The Tars got two goals — the only goals they would score — from junior midfielder Damian Clarke. The first came in the first half of play, with Clarke sending a header into net. The second was the game-winner. Clarke put in an unassisted shot for the 2-1 lead in the 88th minute of play.
"The two goals were as different in feeling as they were in appearance," Clarke said via email. "The first goal was just a reserved state of excitement. I was excited that I had scored, as anyone would be, but the daunting task of staying ahead for the next 86 minutes kept me in check.
"The second goal was a bit different. I knew we were going to score, I just never thought it was going to be me and at such a crucial point in the game. However, when the ball came to me and I put it in the back of the net, I did not really understand the situation. It was only after my teammates tackled me to the field in the excitement that I realized I gave us the lead against the reigning champs. The moment the final whistle blew was an indescribable feeling. The entire team was so invested in the game that everyone on the bench, no matter how tired or injured, ran onto the field in pure excitement."
It was a much-needed win to build the confidence of Rollins early in the season. The Tars, of course, play in the heated Sunshine State Conference, a conference represened by four teams in the Top 25 in the preseason poll.
"We have one of the toughest conferences in DII," Clarke said. "So, going into the game we wanted to prove to ourselves that everything we did in preseason was worth it. That’s what we did. It took away any doubt we had in our ability to compete. It shows we have what it takes to go the long run."
Despite a stacked conference featuring names like Lynn, Tampa, Palm Beach Atlantic and Florida Tech, the Rollins clubhouse in Winter Park, Fla., never waivered in its ultimate goal. Saturday's victory, no matter how early in the season, helps players see that aspirations could in fact be a reality.
"We are aiming to be NCAA DII national champions, but simply wishing it to happen won’t do a thing in the long run," Clarke said. "Everyone on the team knows this will not be an easy task, but we are all committed to putting in the work necessary to reach that goal."
Women's soccer: Columbus State starts the season hot, dominating Grand Valley State in top-5 showdown
Quarterfinals. National championship title game. Semifinals.
That's been where Columbus State has ended its season for the past three years. To say that the Cougars are a DII women's soccer powerhouse is an understatement. Obviously, as is the case every season, expectations are sky high on the Georgia campus. Columbus State almost has a championship or bust mentality.
"That's our goal, we know we can make it there," All-American junior forward Olivia Jarrell said. "We emphasize the importance of it, and where we want to be and how great a feeling we had when everybody was there. We were so close to the opportunity, and we remember how heartbreaking it was when we didn't get it. It really reflects and shows every day, because we all put in such hard work and the newcomers can see how badly we want it. It's a good influence on them as well. You always have to have that winning mentality."
CSU's past two seasons ended at the hands of Grand Valley State, ranked No. 2 entering the match. The No. 3-ranked Cougars were able to get a little bit of revenge in a Labor Day showdown, winning 5-1. It was the highest-ranked opponent the Columbus State women's team ever has beaten.
"I was so pumped for this game; everybody was on the team," Jarrell said. "Even the incoming freshman and new players could feel the intensity from the rest of us that have been there and beaten by them before. It was honestly a great moment and feeling. It bonded us as a team as well."
The Cougars' schedule doesn't relent any time soon, which was why a win against such a highly ranked opponent was so important. September has three more matches against teams that have been ranked in the young season.
"[W]e haven't arrived yet," Jarrell said. "I believe this weekend we proved ourselves and showed what we were capable of. Everyone knew the opponent. It was us against Grand Valley and how important that game was. And to just win it, it made this much better. We know we are going to play some tough opponents, but then again we know we can beat anybody coming up against us."
Columbus State heads into the weekend 2-0, after outscoring its opponents 12-1. Backed by three All-Americans, the Cougars' offensive and defensive attack will be exciting to watch throughout their tough September slate.
"I think we're very well balanced," said Jarrell. "We have a young back line, but they are doing so well. They impressed me so much this weekend, I was so proud of them. But also, how many different people scored. We only had a limited amount of scorers last year. This year so many different players are getting opportunites and scoring a bunch of goals. We really get on the offensive as well. I think it's all around good."
Bellarmine, Lenoir-Rhyne are this week's big risers
Columbus State wasn't the only team to defeat Grand Valley State this week. Bellarmine shocked the Lakers as well, defeating GVSU 2-1 in a thrilling double-overtime game. Freshman midfielder Samantha Ferry scored the game-winner on a perfect give-and-go from Annabel Moore. The win allowed Bellarmine to jump from the unranked all the way to No. 7 in this week's United Soccer Coaches poll. Overall, 10 new teams made their debuts in this week's poll, with Nova Southeastern, Seton Hill, Mississippi College and Texas Women's all cracking the top 20.
On the men's side, Charleston (WV) has supplanted Wingate as the new No. 1. Three new teams — Simon Fraser, Saginaw Valley State and Lynn — cracked the Top 5. Like the women's poll, 10 teams jumped from unranked to ranked. Lenoir-Rhyne is this week's biggest jumper, debuting at No. 8.