Lyco soccer can win Commonwealth title

The Lycoming men’s soccer team is off to face Elizabethtown in the MAC Championship game tonight after it defeated the No. 1-ranked team in Division III in Messiah Wednesday night.

The Warriors and the Falcons were knotted at zero after regulation and two overtime periods, but Lycoming (10-7-3) eventually prevailed in the shootout, winning 5-4.

As a result, Lycoming visits Elizabethtown at 7 tonight for the Commonwealth Conference title. The winner receives an automatic berth into the NCAA?Division III playoffs.

Messiah (18-1-1) hadn’t lost to a conference opponent in 54 games, and it was the first time that it had been shut out by a conference opponent since 2006. It was also the first time Lycoming beat Messiah since 1999.

Senior defensive back Justin Walker netted the 5th goal in the shootout and it was a special moment for Walker as this is his first year playing college soccer.

“It was a pretty special feeling knowing what we had just accomplished,” said Walker. “Coming from where we were at in the beginning of the season and what all the preseason ranks said and to beating Messiah was a pretty special moment.”

Senior Connor McNiff, the starting center back, helped hold the Falcons without a goal and had the fourth goal in the shootout.

“Guys stepped up and made big plays, blocking shots, especially Connor (Keenan),” said McNiff of his team’s defense. “The rest of the defense just had to step up and limit the chances they had and any chances they did have, make sure pressure was up on them.”

McNiff and Walker each had big games on defense again, but each weren’t chosen for the all-Commonwealth Conference team, despite leading the team to a six-win improvement and six shutouts in the regular season.

The man in goal for those shutouts in the regular season and against Messiah was keeper Connor Keenan. Keenan made seven saves in the win for his seventh shutout of the year.

“I felt confident,” Keenan said of his team going into the shootout. “I knew the guys that were taking them would step up and make them and I knew I just needed to make one save but our guys stepped up. I was fully confident that they would make there’s and they pulled out the win.”

The last time these Lycoming and Elizabethtown met, Lycoming fell 2-1 in a game that featured 40 fouls, 11 yellow cards and three penalty kicks.

This will mark the fourth time that Lycoming will be in the conference championship, and it will try to win its first.

Thursday’s victory came after a first-round win Monday over Hood, a game moved to Balls Mills in-game after darkness set in and rendered Lycoming’s unlit field unplayable.

Then, after possibly the biggest upset in Lycoming sports history and the biggest win in Lycoming men’s soccer history, Walker believed his team’s confidence is at an all time high.

“Well it certainly aspires to the confidence but we’ve known all season what we could do defensively as a team when we work together,” said Walker. “So going into Elizabethtown we’ll do the same mentality that we’re going to defend the best that we can and try to score whatever way we can and just put up a full team effort.”