NW Soccer

Northwest soccer redshirt freshman defender Grace Wineinger passes the ball during the Bearcats' season-ending loss to No. 17 Emporia State Nov. 19 in Warrensburg, Missouri.

Marc Gordon’s office, the impromptu home base for the Northwest soccer program, sits on the third floor of the Lamkin Activity Center. On the door is a 2021 Northwest soccer poster, and above it is a piece of yellow scratch paper.

Written on the piece of paper is the word “BELIEVE,” which is inspired by the Apple TV comedy "Ted Lasso," a show in which a midwestern football coach is turned into an overseas soccer coach.

"We try to have a good time with the work we do," Gordon said.

The "BELIEVE" sign on Gordon's door isn't just a running joke for the team, though, this is part of Gordon’s philosophy and what he’s preached to his team since he took over the position in December 2017. He wants the players to believe in themselves and what they’re capable of.

“It’s a continued fight with culture and desire,” Gordon said.

The desire for Gordon and his players was to see progress in Northwest soccer. 

Throughout the course of the 2021 season, he saw just that.

After starting the season 2-0 for the first time in six years, Northwest dropped the next three matches. With a 2-3 record in their possession, the Bearcats needed a spark to get back on track for the season.

The spark would come from a a match with then-No. 13 Missouri Western Sept. 19 at Bearcat Pitch. For roughly 36 minutes, the two teams battled in a 1-1 tie. That was until Northwest sophomore forward Teagan Blackburn scored the game-winning goal with seven seconds left on the clock.

From that point on,the Bearcats won all but three games the rest of the way en route to the highest single-season win total in the program’s 22-year history.

“Some goals were met, and we have to remain mindful of where we started,” Gordon said.

With a 13-5-1 record to end the regular season, the team was able to meet more goals in the postseason.

Northwest finished third in the MIAA, despite being slated to finish seventh in a preseason coaches and media poll, which allowed the Bearcats to have a home playoff game for the first time in program history in the MIAA Tournament. The opportunity was not wasted, and they added the first home playoff win to the list of achievements with a 5-0 triumph over Washburn.

Despite being eliminated from the conference tournament by No. 17 Emporia State in the semifinals Nov. 12, the Bearcats’ season wasn’t over just yet.

Three days after the game with the Hornets, Northwest soccer personnel gathered on a Monday evening in a classroom in the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse. It wasn’t just for a routine team meeting, either, but it was to find out whether or not their season would continue.

The players watched the NCAA Selection Show for the NCAA Tournament Nov. 15, awaiting their team’s name to be called.

For the first time ever, it was, and Northwest secured its first bid in the NCAA Tournament.

“I think you always want that,” Gordon said in a soft voice. “And you strive for that. You work for that. You hope for that. That’s what you work for.”

While progress is always one of his goals, Gordon said he couldn’t have guessed at the beginning of the season where the team would be at the end of it.

“That’s the desire, but you play a little reality with yourself, I guess, and know where you’ve been and where you’re trying to go,” Gordon said. “To anticipate the jump that was made, I can’t say, ‘Yeah, I absolutely thought that was gonna happen.’ I can’t say that.”

The Bearcats’ season did come to an end shortly after, as they met the Hornets for the third time of the season and lost 2-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Nov. 19.

Regardless of the end, the Bearcats put together the best season to date for Northwest soccer. They earned the most wins in a single season, scored the most goals in a single season, hosted their first home playoff game, earned their first home playoff game win and earned their first NCAA Tournament bid.

Redshirt freshman defender Sydney Mueller said it felt amazing to be a part of the team’s historical run.

“It was great to see improvement, and I think we learned a lot this year,” Mueller said.

Mueller said a lot of the credit for the program’s improvement goes to the last-year players, who were leaders for the team during the 2021 campaign.

“They’ve put in a lot of hard work, and they really helped guide us to improve this program,” Mueller said. “I think experience is great. It’s not something that comes easy.”

While the leadership from the last-year players was a major factor in the Bearcats’ resurgence, there were, of course, other parts to it.

For Gordon and his players, the success partly comes from the stuff not seen on game day.

“Our team is really all best friends, and that’s not what you get on a lot of other teams,” Mueller said.

Gordon said the mental side of the game is what truly drives players and teams to be successful.

“Team sports are crazy to me,” Gordon said through that same soft voice. “As a player, there’s a mindtrap. And I don’t know if that makes sense, but you don’t want your team to not be successful, because then the team’s not successful. But you also want the chance to be able to go in and prove yourself. … You’re selfish in that you want to play, but selfless in that you want the team to succeed. … It’s an incredible process of growth, and that’s why I love college athletics.”

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