Loyola’s men’s soccer team has adopted a nickname as a result of its performances in conference tournaments over the past few years, calling itself “The NovemBlers.”
The 2011 season exemplified this nickname perfectly as the Ramblers entered the Horizon League tournament, which typically takes place in November, as the sixth-seeded team. Despite its low seed, the team played brilliantly when the games mattered most and won the tournament.
Seniors Eric Shoendorf, Andrew Raymonds and Brian Bement were freshmen during the 2011 season and all played large roles in winning the championship. They would love to bookend their collegiate careers with another conference title.
The 2014 team has shown flashes this year that it can do just that. At 6-5-5, the Ramblers are having their best regular season in recent years, and their key wins show that they have big performances when it counts.
In the first conference game against Bradley University, Loyola was playing from behind all game until sophomore Kirill Likhovid scored with only 10 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. Shortly into the overtime period, Ryan Howe converted a penalty kick to give the Ramblers a victory.
The Ramblers might need some of this late-game magic come tournament time. They could face an uphill battle in the conference finale, and are currently ranked fifth out of seven teams in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC).
The key in the tournament for Loyola will be converting good shot opportunities. It has not been uncommon to see the Ramblers outshoot their opponent but not win the game. It has already happened in five games this season.
If the Ramblers begin to score consistently, they will be a very dangerous team in the conference. Defense has been the team’s strength all season. Led by an experienced back line, the team has only given up 14 goals this season.
On the other side of the pitch, the offense has been led by Elliot Collier, a freshman and New Zealand native, who has found the back of the net three times this season. He scored with 15 seconds remaining against UIC to knot up the score and send the game into overtime.
One key scorer for the Ramblers has been relatively silent this season, though. Bement has only scored two goals after leading the team with eight goals in 2013. Loyola will need Bement to get going during the tournament to help its chances.
Loyola is scheduled to play its final game of the regular season this coming Saturday when it travels to the University of Evansville. The Ramblers will turn around four days later and begin the conference tournament on Nov. 12 in Peoria, Illinois.
Now that the leaves are falling off the trees and everyone has turned the pages of their calendars to the month of November, the Ramblers will look to stay true to their nickname and come through in the most important conference games.