As the unorthodox spring soccer season comes to an end, it only seems fit for the MIAA to end it in an unorthodox method. Northwest soccer will face Missouri Southern April 22 at Bearcat Pitch for the first round of the MIAA’s postseason tournament.
In the absence of a true conference championship tournament, the MIAA created a pseudo-championship in which teams would be seeded as they normally would but only face seeds one spot lower than them from the opposite division. Each team will play two games to conclude the postseason.
@NWBearcatSOC will play Missouri Southern in the first round of the MIAA Spring Championship Tournament April 22 at Bearcat Pitch.Looks like senior Bearcats will get at least one more chance to win in Maryville.@NWMSports pic.twitter.com/wGQ2KSYXPZ— Corbin Smith (@curly_corbs) April 18, 2021
Northwest coach Marc Gordon is glad to be able to play in Maryville after extensive excursions to Kearney, Nebraska, and Fort Hays, Kansas. However, due to the four inches of snowfall in Kearney April 16, the Bearcats only made it to Lincoln, Nebraska, before they were forced to return from the hours they’d already spent on the road.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of home matches, so being on the new pitch will be great,” Gordon said. “I’m sure (the team is) excited to play somebody outside of their division. (Southern) is going to bring in a lot of experience in terms of matches they’ve played this spring. Looking forward to an opportunity to play.”
Southern (4-8, 1-4 MIAA) has played nearly twice the number of games as Northwest (3-3-1, 2-2 MIAA) has this season. However, both Gordon and senior midfielder Madi McKeever believe that it won’t matter in the postseason. With the ’Cats riding a two-game win streak and their offense now in rhythm, the game is all but decided, and they’re looking to take it.
A factor playing into the team’s confidence is being able to play in a familiar location. The Bearcat Pitch is nothing more than a walk around campus for the ’Cats.
“I think it’ll do a lot for us mentally,” McKeever said about having home-field advantage. “Last weekend, we spent a lot of time on the road, and it was draining. Being here, we get our locker room vibes, we get our fans, we get all of our family. It’s just so much more fun to play in front of everyone.”
Gordon described this tournament as a creative opportunity to give all teams a sense of competition to mirror the usual feel of a postseason. That includes the senior’s final minutes as a college student — final minutes as an athlete.
For McKeever, these final games of the spring season will not be her final games as a Bearcat. With an additional year of eligibility being granted to fall athletes due to COVID-19 modifying seasons, she will utilize hers and return for one more run with Northwest. These final games of the spring will be her way of sending her fellow seniors off.
“This tournament’s a little different, but we’ve never hosted in a situation like this,” McKeever said. “The fact that we put ourselves in a situation to host is really exciting. We do have a couple people who won’t be rejoining us next season, so it’s exciting to play at home one more time with them. We’ve been working for this moment for four years together, so this is one last hurrah with them before they leave.”
McKeever believes her team can come out with a win over Southern by doing two things: playing with more heart and playing for each other. She acknowledged that Southern is a “very athletic” team but said the Bearcats should be able to keep up with them.
Gordon wants his team to continue playing how it has been during its streak of offensive production. However, he said his team will have to play up to the level of Southern because it has yet to play the Lions this season.
“We want to continue to try some of the different things we’ve done,” Gordon said. “How we apply pressure and how well (Southern) plays as our opponent will dictate what we can and can’t do. The idea is to go in with a plan and execute, but again, it depends on how well Missouri Southern is playing.”
Despite Gordon’s analysis of the Bearcats’ opponent and the variance in number of games played, McKeever sees no difference between her team and the Lions. If anything, the difference in schedules, McKeever said, plays into her team’s advantage.
As the Lions have already played 15 games (including exhibitions) this season, they’re closer to burnout than the Bearcats, in McKeever’s opinion.
“It’s not going to be as much of a factor now versus if we would’ve played them at the beginning,” McKeever said about Southern’s schedule. “We’ve both been playing multiple games a weekend now. I think we’re reaching more of our peak than when we played our first MIAA weekend. I don’t think too much of a difference will occur this weekend.”
The ’Cats will kick off against the Lions at 3 p.m April 22 at Bearcat Pitch. Depending on the outcome of both games, Northwest will play either Rogers State or Fort Hays State.
Whether McKeever is right or wrong about her team’s advantages, the Bearcats will still have to line up to prove themselves. As she returns from a strained calf, McKeever is more than ready to play in her second postseason game of her career.
“We’re really excited to play at home in front of our crowd again,” McKeever said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if we show up for 90 minutes, we’ll win this game. Things are coming together better for us recently, and we’re ready to finish our last two games strong.”