The saying, “All good things must come to an end,” proved true on Nov. 20 for the No. 17 Loyola men’s soccer team. After a historic season, the Ramblers fell 1-0 to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Ramblers didn’t go down without a fight against the Fighting Irish. Loyola stayed competitive with Notre Dame throughout the match but struggled to produce offensive opportunities. The Fighting Irish outshot the Ramblers 15-6.
Notre Dame’s offense challenged redshirt junior goalkeeper Andrew Chekadanov throughout the game. Chekadanov snatched a clutch save in the 45th minute after the Fighting Irish charged the net with a three on two, which kept the two teams tied heading into halftime.
But in the 78th minute, Chekadanov let the eventual game-winner slip into the back of the net. Irish midfielder Mark Gormley connected with forward Jon Gallagher, who squeezed a shot between Chekadanov and the near post. Despite the 1-0 edge, Chekadanov made two additional saves later in the game and didn’t give up another goal.
The Ramblers’ offense went into full attack mode following Gallagher’s goal. Junior forward Elliot Collier was the only Rambler to shoot a shot on goal, but Irish goalkeeper Chris Hubbard made the stop.
As the clock wound down, Loyola made desperate efforts to score. But those efforts were met by a talented Notre Dame defense that has only allowed 15 goals in 20 games this season.
When time ran out, Notre Dame players jumped into a huddle, while multiple Ramblers dropped to their knees in disbelief knowing their season had come to an end.
Loyola’s season was nothing short of a storybook season. The Ramblers were ranked among the nation’s top-20 Division I men’s soccer programs since mid-September. Loyola capped off the season with a 14-4-1 overall record, marking the most wins in a single season for the program. The Ramblers also captured their first Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) regular season title since joining the conference in 2013.
Back in August, head coach Neil Jones said his goal this season was to win the program’s first NCAA postseason game. That goal was met when Loyola defeated crosstown rival University of Illinois – Chicago 2-0 on Nov. 17 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
After Loyola’s season-ending loss, Jones said that although he was disappointed with the game’s outcome, he couldn’t be more proud of his team.
“It was a great season. Obviously, this really hurts right now,” said Jones, who just finished his fourth season as head coach for Loyola. “We battled with a fantastic team and a fantastic program tonight. We couldn’t quite get it done in the end, but we played hard and we gave everything we had. But we couldn’t come out with the result tonight.”
The Ramblers will lose six seniors, including four consistent starters to graduation. Defenders Ryan Howe, Kirill Likhovid and Kevin Engesser have developed the Ramblers’ backfield into one of the nation’s strongest defensive units throughout the past four seasons. Engesser scored three goals this season, including the second goal in the first round win over UIC, which made him only the third Rambler to score a goal in a NCAA postseason game.
Although Chekadanov still has one more year of NCAA eligibility, he’s on pace to graduate in May of 2017. In his breakout campaign, the MVC named Chekadanov Goalkeeper of the Year as he finished with a .57 goals against average while only allowing 11 goals in 19 games.
Despite the loss of the six seniors, the Ramblers have a youthful roster. Sophomore forward Alec Lasinski led the team with seven goals and four assists this season. Junior midfielder Brody Kraussel and redshirt sophomore transfer Grant Stoneman recorded three goals each, while Kraussel documented a team-high 10 assists. Lasinski, Kraussel, Stoneman and Collier are all expected to return next season.
In such a historic season, there are many things for Jones to be proud of, but he said the team developed a strong culture, which is something his staff has worked on building over time.
“They are [fun] to be around. They’re great kids. It’s a pleasure to coach them,” Jones said. “It’s fun to show up to training. We just had a great atmosphere within our locker room. We have a great team culture. It’s something that’s [been] built over the years.”