Men’s soccer team awaiting Summit League tournament

Mark Shanahan, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Summit League Men’s Soccer Championship is set for this Thursday and Saturday in Denver, Colo., where four teams will compete for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Omaha is the No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, while Eastern is making its first appearance in the Summit League tournament since 1994 and seeking its first ever postseason win.

Western Illinois made the postseason for the fourth time in the past five years, and it is its seventh time in the postseason as the No. 3 seed.

Meanwhile, Denver just captured its fourth-straight regular season conference title as co-champions with Omaha.

Here is an outlook on how each team got to the tournament.

Omaha

The Mavericks come in as the top seed in the tournament after winning out the tiebreaker over Denver by goal differential in league play.

Omaha finished with a +8 thanks to its 3-1 win over Oral Roberts in the season finale, while Denver finished with a +7 goal differential.

The Mavericks finished with an overall record of 9-4-4 and 5-0-1 in The Summit League with the tie coming against Denver.

This is the second consecutive year Omaha has made it to the postseason after losing to Oral Roberts in double overtime a year ago.

They defeated both Eastern (2-0) and Western Illinois (2-1) this season.

Fazlo Alihodzic leads the offense for the Mavericks in goals (8), assists (6), points (22), shots on goal (19) and game-winning goals (3).

Goalkeeper Joseph Ghitis has six shutouts this season along with 56 saves.

Denver

The No. 2 seed Denver completed its second-consecutive unbeaten regular season last Thursday with a 2-1 over Portland in extra time.

They are the first program to do this since Clemson in 1977-78. Denver is hosting the tournament and they have gone 43-3-4 at home since 2012.

The Pioneers had 10 shutouts in its last 13 matches this season. They held all the teams in this tournament scoreless in the head-to-head matchups.

The Denver offense has four players in double-digits for point totals, but Blake Elder and Andre Shinyashiki are the leaders with 15 points. Elder has seven goals and one assist, while Shinyashiki has five goals and five assists.

Goalkeeper Nick Gardner is responsible for the 10 shutouts and has made 23 saves this season. The Pioneers have a 6-0 all-time record in the tournament.

Western Illinois

The Leathernecks clinched the No. 3 seed after defeating Fort Wayne 4-1 last Saturday.

This is the fourth time in the last six seasons that Western has made it to the tournament as the No. 3 seed.

They have a 7-2-2 all-time record as the No. 3 seed and won three of their six titles as the third seed. They won the tournament in 2011 and 2012. They are the only team in the tournament not to have beaten any of the teams in the tournament field.

The Leathernecks finished the season 8-9-1 and 3-3 in The Summit League. Jacob Bevan leads the offense in almost all categories with nine goals, five assists and 23 points.

Goalkeeper Tim Hansen has four shutouts this season and 51 saves.

Eastern Illinois

Eastern has a young team under second year coach Kiki Lara, and its big wins over Western Illinois and Fort Wayne this season are why they are in at the No. 4 seed.

Eastern finished the season 5-11-1 and 2-4 in The Summit League, but that does not fully reflect how the team has played toward the end of the season.

The Panthers defeated Western Illinois 2-0 this season, but they were shut out against Omaha and Denver.

Freshman Alex Castaneda led the team in goals (3), points (6), shots on goal (10) and game-winning goals (2).

Senior Davis Wegmann and sophomore Julian Montoya followed Castaneda with four points each. Goalkeeper Mike Novotny was strong this year for the Panthers with his 58 saves and four shutouts.

The semi-finals begin on Thursday with No. 1 Omaha taking on No. 4 Eastern at 2 p.m. followed by No. 2 Denver taking on No. 3 Western Illinois at 5 p.m.

Denver is the three-time defending champ of the league tournament, and it is looking to make it to the NCAA tournament for the fourth year in a row.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]