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David Boyce | | November 29, 2015

DII Notebook: Early losses fueled Columbus State women's soccer team

Columbus State women’s soccer team is proof that a little in-season adversity can pay huge dividends by having the resiliency to fight through it.

Five games into the season, the Cougars were 2-2-1. It was quite a contrast from a year ago when Columbus State entered NCAA Division II playoffs undefeated. The Cougars advanced to the regional championship game, but a tough 2-1 loss to Rollins kept them from making the semifinals for the first time in school history.

“Personally, that game really sat on my mind,” said Columbus State junior forward Nicole Corcione. “I really didn’t want that to happen again. We were right there last year and let it slip through our hands. Every game we had this year, we were working towards winning that game.”

The Cougars won that game, beating fourth-ranked Barry 2-0 on Nov. 22.  Columbus State, 21-2-1, will take on Bridgeport, 21-1-1, noon Thursday at the Ashton Brosnahan Soccer Stadium in Pensacola, Fla.

“Everyone was ecstatic,” said Corcione, who has scored 15 goals and 13 assists. “We didn’t make it to this point last year. We lost. It was nice being on the winning side of it. It was so surreal to be the first team in our program’s history to make it this far.

“We are excited that all of our hard work from the season paid off and we were able to make it to the next round.”

MORE: Division II women's soccer championship bracket

It is quite an accomplishment for a program that was started 11 years ago by current coach Jay Entlich. He has heard from some of his former players from those early years.

Some of those players are now college coaches who will not be able to make the trip to Florida for this historic time for Columbus State women’s soccer program because they have recruiting obligations.

As nice as this accomplishment is for Columbus State, Entlich wants the Cougars to go into the tournament with the mentality they will be playing on Saturday for a national title.

“It is one thing to get over that hump and get to the final four but we don’t want to be just a participant,” Entlich said. “It may only happen one time in our career so we are business as usual.”

That approach definitely worked when the Cougars lost two of its first four games, falling to Tampa and Rollins, which was ranked No. 1 at the time.

“Early in the season, we had those two losses and we didn’t let that define us,” Corcione said. “It fueled the fire. We wanted to improve and we did. We found the formation that worked for us. We have been a good attacking team this year and our defense has done an awesome job. Everybody on the field has made a difference.”

Entlich purposely scheduled tough opponents early in the season to toughen his team for the remainder of the year. Next year will be no different. The Cougars will play University of North Alabama, Wingate, Lynn and Barry and North Georgia early in the season.

“We have the mindset we want to play the most difficult schedule possible because we think it is going to help prepare us for postseason play,” Entlich said. “We knew we were playing good teams. We lost to two really competitive teams. We knew we had to work harder, and we hadn’t arrived yet. It helped us.

“This group I’ve said is different from some of our other groups. They are all buying in. They realize they have to play attacking soccer and defending soccer. In years past, I felt we had players who were just really good at defending or really good at attacking, but not good at both. This year we have players who are willing to do both sides of the ball. Out of our starting 11, 10 of them have scored goals.”

Concordia-St. Paul, NCAA Division II volleyball power, ready for regional

In the quarterfinals and semifinals of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference postseason tournament, Concordia-St. Paul women’s volleyball team needed five sets to win and advance.

The Golden Bears needed to win those matches and the conference championship match to be in position to get a No. 1 seed in the Central Region, which they achieved.

But those wins, which lifted Concordia-St Paul to 27-4 on the season, revealed a trait that could help the Golden Bears return to the very top of NCAA Division II volleyball.

“We have shown some resiliency,” said Concordia-St. Paul coach Brady Starkey. “We have had a few injuries and we fought through that and the next person stepped up and kept us in normal rhythm and play. Things aren’t always pretty for us. It is cool to see our team fight back in five-game matches and win them.”

Concordia-St. Paul, which has won 21 of its last 22 matches, takes on No. 8 seed Southwestern Oklahoma, 22-11, at 7:30 p.m. CT Thursday at Gangelhoff Center.

The Golden Bears enter the NCAA Division II volleyball tournament with a championship pedigree. They won seven straight national titles from 2007 through 2103. Last year Concordia-St. Paul lost to Southwest Minnesota State in the regional semifinals.

“Speaking for myself, I really want it this year,” said junior outside hitter Anna Schlaak. “Last year we didn’t even get to the final eight. Deep down, I think everybody has it within them. I hope everybody brings it out in them in these next three games to get nationals.”

Starkey said many of the players from last year’s team are back.

“I think they are pretty hungry,” he said. “I think last year they felt they let an opportunity slip away. I know we pretty much have the exact team as last year. They are excited to have another opportunity to be in regional and see what they are capable of doing.”

A tough nonconference schedule coupled with a tough conference should have the Golden Bears battle-tested for regional.

Concordia-St. Paul opened the season with a home loss to Palm Beach Atlantic, which earned a No. 1 seed in its region.

And the NSIC was so tough that Northern State, which finished tied for second in conference and was 25-4 overall, didn’t even make the 64-team field.

“Losing to Palm Beach Atlantic helped us realize we weren’t where we thought we were at the beginning of the season,” Schlaak said. “They are a very good team. Losing to them was a eye-opener.

“In our conference, you have to take it one game at a time because it is all over the place. It was a four-way tie going into the last regular season matches. It was who had the drive to take the conference.”

Because the Golden Bears finished strong, they get to make their push to win regional and return to the final eight at home.

“You get to sleep in your own beds,” Starkey said. You don’t have to travel. We get a little extra rest, play at our place and in front of our fans. It is a big deal.”

Palm Beach Atlantic wanting to prove it can play with top 10 teams

The season started for Palm Beach Atlantic with a 3-2 victory at Concordia-St. Paul. It told the Sailfish that they could play with one of the perennial elite teams in the top 10.

Palm Beach Atlantic had success in the last five years. But twice in the previous three years, the Sailfish lost to Tampa in the regional championship game, falling one match shy of reaching the final eight.

“It gave us a little bit of confidence that we were in position where we thought we were, but we weren’t sure: That we could compete as a top 10 team,” said Palm Beach Atlantic coach Bob White.

 “We just needed to go outside of our conference, which is an amazingly strong conference, and test the water and see where we were as a program.”

Palm Beach Atlantic earned one of the eight No. 1 seeds in the 64-team field and will play host to the South Region Tournament. The Sailfish, 26-4, takes on No. 8 seed Kentucky State, 25-12, 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday at Rubin Arena.

The previous two times Palm Beach Atlantic lost to Tampa in the regional championship match, it was at Tampa. Tampa is the No. 2 seed in the region.

White said his team can’t look ahead to Tampa because there are many good teams standing in the way before that potential match takes place. But it is good to know that if it does happen, it will be at Palm Beach Atlantic’s home. The two split this season. Each won at home.

Tampa, 26-5, is the defending national champions.

“Tampa is an amazing team, an amazing program,” White said. “They have set such a high standard. It is a really hard to win at their place.

“We wanted to have a better opportunity than we have had so far. Obviously, we will find out how much it will help us. But it certainly has to help us somewhat with confidence. Now we can play at home.”

First trip to semifinals for Cal Poly Pomona men’s soccer

Cal Poly Pomona men’s soccer team leaves Tuesday for a cross-country flight to Pensacola, Florida, for its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II semifinals.

The Broncos, 16-2-3, takes on Rockhurst, 18-1,3, at 9 p.m. ET, in Pensacola, Florida

“We are excited,” Cal Poly Pomona coach Yossi Raz said. “It means we get to play after Thanksgiving. We are thankful to represent our community and university in the final four.

Raz joked that he has received plenty of advice on how to prepared for the semifinals.

“This school has a great tradition in athletics,” Raz said. “A lot of coaches have been there and they keep advising us how to do it well.”

MORE: Division II men's soccer bracket

Raz, his staff and players are spending their time between the quarterfinals and the semifinals learning all they can about Rockhurst.

“We are trying to understand the players they have on their squad and the areas they are vulnerable and we can exploit,” Raz said. “We are getting our bodies healthy and our minds focused for the task ahead of us.”