UNCW’s season ends on penalty kicks

Heaney: “It’s just a shame to go out on penalty kicks.”


Noah Powers/The Seahawk

Phillip Goodrum (10) battles for the ball during UNCW’s NCAA Tournament first round match against Furman

Lanre Badmus, Staff Writer

In the end, it came down to the unpredictability of penalty kicks for UNC Wilmington men’s soccer.

Lots of chances were created between UNCW and Furman, but it was the Paladins who prevailed 5-3 on penalties after a scoreless draw through 110 minutes in the first round of the NCAA Division I College Cup on Thursday night.

The Seahawks (12-5-3) closed out a season that saw them battle through Hurricane Florence and another late-season slump to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA College Cup for the second straight year. Though the UNCW Soccer Stadium faithful was behind them for the distance, the result was not in the home crowd’s favor on a chilly Port City night.

The Seahawks spoke candidly on the result postgame, which was the first time UNCW failed to advance past the opening round in its fourth all-time appearance in the College Cup.

“It was a very tight game, I felt we probably created more of the chances on the evening,” said UNCW coach Aidan Heaney, whose 18thseason in charge concluded with the loss. “Two very similar teams in how we play and how we set up…it’s just a shame to go out on penalty kicks.”

On the bright side

Heaney also took away positives from the result, such as the team’s resilience in battling through both tough weather conditions and another end-of-season slump.

“The resiliency they showed tonight and through the difficult conditions with the wind and the heavy field,” Heaney said. “From my perspective, we wanted to go out there and compete and show a little bit more bite and hunger…I think we felt that towards the end of the season that the guys were playing a little bit tight, more afraid of losing than trying to win the game. But I thought tonight that we were trying to win the game and that was very evident.”

The Seahawks had a narrow 11-9 edge in shots, six of which were in the second half of regulation. Redshirt junior midfielder Danny Reynolds, senior midfielder Shane Mecham and sophomore forward Emil Elveroth all came close in the first half.

Junior forward Phillip Goodrum also had multiple headed chances to win the game in the second half, including a 90thminute header from senior midfielder David Lozano’s free kick that hit the post just before regulation ended.

“It just feels like one of those games where we just controlled it, I feel like,” said junior forward Phillip Goodrum postgame. “I’d love to have one of those headers back. We hit the post and we had chances, but it just wasn’t our night.”

Senior surrealism

Goodrum also said how proud he was of the eight members of this year’s graduating senior class for having “great careers” at UNCW, and that no one player “could’ve given any more” than the total team effort that was displayed on the pitch.

Mecham, one of those graduating seniors, said it was tough to end a career on a penalty shootout loss, but also felt surreal about it being his last game.

“There’s never really a good way, but that’s the worst way to go out. We were happy with our performance and how we played,” Mecham said. “But obviously as a senior, the feeling of that being my last game probably hasn’t hit me yet. Other than that, we’re just disappointed that we weren’t able to get the result.”

Furman formidability

Paladins head coach Doug Allison’s team prevailed in close games that have become a trademark in the College Cup.

“The NCAA [College Cup] and the history of being around it, a lot of it comes down to a one-goal game or penalty kicks,” said Allison. “That was a very close game, and it’s the time of year when it comes down to who holds their nerve, who can come up with the big play. These guys did it, and I’m really pleased to win on penalty kicks.”

Heaney is one of Allison’s closest friends in the business, and while it was unfortunate that one team had to be eliminated on the night, the Furman coach was glad that his guys stuck it out for the victory.

“They’re a good team. They overload the middle and they’re very talented [in the midfield], and they’re very tough to play against,” Allison said of the matchup with the Seahawks. “I hate that someone had to lose. With our kind of schools, it’s great to be in the NCAAs. Both sets of players represented their teams and their schools very, very well tonight.”

Paladins redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Ben Hale scored a penalty of his own just prior to saving Wilhelm Nilsson’s attempt, and the save proved to be crucial.

“I certainly felt good after making the save, but I just felt that I had just given the team a chance. That’s all they asked of me,” Hale said postgame. “When he stepped up, I just read his body language and pushed as far as I could to my right, made the save and felt really good after that. I knew with that, we’d have a better chance of going on, and fortunately, we did.”

Hale also said that he felt cool and confident on both ends of the penalty shootout, even though he had once missed a penalty as a member of the FC Dallas youth academy.

“I just put the ball down and I knew where it was going, and I didn’t look back,” Hale said of his own penalty attempt that beat Seahawks redshirt senior goalkeeper Ryan Cretens. “I stayed confident with where I was going to put the ball and hit it like I have so many times before in practice.”

Hale’s classmate, forward Cole McLagan, scored the winning penalty kick for the Southern Conference champion Paladins. He offered his thoughts in the postgame presser.

“We’ve actually kind of had our set penalty order for a while now, so I knew when that time comes that I’m going to be ready to take that fifth penalty,” said McLagan. “Coach Doug has confidence in me, the rest of the guys have confidence in me, so when I stepped up I took one deep breath, let it out, and I just put it where I need to put it. No better feeling than winning the game there, so just happy to do it.”

As a reward for their victory, the SoCon champs will now travel to Charlottesville, V.A. to face 10th-seeded UVA on Sunday night. However, the Paladins only focus on one game at a time, according to coach Allison.

“Nothing,” said Allison when asked about what they know about UVA’s team and tactics. “Honestly, I told the coaching staff, ‘let’s focus on one game’ because we didn’t know whether we were going to be going home or going [up to Charlottesville]. Now, we start again. We’ve got to get ready in two or three more days to play again.”

Seahawks’ next step

As for the Seahawks, who still end the season with their heads held high, they now look ahead to 2019 and beyond to take the next step in the program’s progression. Emphasized, among other things, was the need to win a CAA regular season title after missing out by only a point this season.

“Obviously, we want to compete and win a CAA championship and get further in the national tournament,” said coach Heaney. “I asked the guys about the way they played, and the way they ended on Friday in the CAA semifinal [a 2-1 overtime loss to Hofstra] was much more bitterly disappointing than this. Because when you play a sport and you compete, and you give everything you possibly can, and maybe it just doesn’t come up for you on the night, at least you can be proud of the effort.”