Last season, the DII Men's Soccer Championship ended with a first-time champion in Wingate. What does this season's tournament have in store?
How about those Wingate Bulldogs? They have certainly had a tough road back to the postseason, even falling out of the Top 25 in the October 31 United Soccers Coaches Poll. The regular season ended a bit bumpy for Wingate, tying Catawba and losing to Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bulldogs quickly righted the ship, however, sweeping through the South Atlantic Conference tournament and outscoring their opponents 8-1.
Wingate -- who jumped back to No. 13 in the United Soccer Coaches poll -- drew the second seed. That allows them a home game with a possible showdown with No. 23 Lander lurking in the Southeast Region, along with some other teams whom which Wingate is familiar.
One of those teams is Lincoln Memorial. The Railsplitters struggled with Wingate this season, but still built an impressive resume which helped them return to the NCAA postseason for the first time in ten years. Despite their two losses to Wingate, the Railsplitters did defeat both Lenoir-Rhyne and Young Harris who join them in the Southeast Region. There is certainly a familiarity in this part of the bracket, and paired with a nothing-to-lose midset, Lincoln Memorial could be a surprise No. 6 seed.
LIU Post, California Baptist and Midwestern State are the only three teams entering the postseason without a loss. The Pioneers are 16-0-2 on the season, earning them the East Region's top honors. The Lancers posted an identical record, claiming the top seed in the West and the Mustangs enter the tournament 18-0-2, the top seed in the South Central Region and newest No. 1 in DII soccer. At the very least, two of these three teams will end up with a loss on their record.
LIU Post certainly has some company it its region with No. 10 Merrimack and No. 15 Adelphi. Should the Pioneers escape the first part of the bracket, they could have a showdown with a Charleston (WV) team that has been atop the rankings for much of the season.
But the South Central Region is a DII soccer power house this year. Midwestern State opens against No. 19 Colorado Mesa. If they remain without a loss, the winner of No. 8 Colorado Mines and No. 14 St. Edwards awaits. If the Mustangs can make it through and still not have a loss to their name, their bracket funnels right into the West region, where a showdown with No. 2 California Baptist could be awaiting. While the Lancers certainly have their hands full, Aidan Apodaca -- who's 27 goals are best in all of the NCAA -- has been nearly impossible to stop.
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Speaking of Charleston (WV), its senior forward Will Roberts is looking to end his illustrious career on the right foot. Roberts is currently second amongst active goal scorers across every level. Roberts was on the 2014 national runner-up squad and scored 21 goals as the leader of last season's national runner-up team. Perhaps the third (and final) time will be the charm for the point scoring machine and he will end his collegiate career hoisting a trophy.
Standing in the Golden Eagles way in the first round will be West Virginia Wesleyan. That's the same Bobcats team that upset Charleston just days ago in a stunning, overtime thriller that gave the Bobcats their first-ever Mountan East Conference title. Surely revenge will be on the minds of Charleston, but momentum could be favoring the Bobcats. This should be a big test right off the start.
While on the subject of first-timers, how about Ohio Valley? Not only are the Fighting Scots heading to the tournament for the first time in program history, they have the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region and a first-round bye. This is a team that reeled off a program-best 17 wins this season, culminating in its first-ever Great Midwest Athletic Conference championship. It goes without saying that Ohio Valley is looking to add to its season of firsts, most preferably with its first tournament win in history.