By Andrew Johnson
MUSKEGON – Muskegon Community College athletic fans are hopeful that the number 12 is lucky this weekend.
The men’s national tournament is at Stryker Complex in Wichita, Kansas while the women will play their tournament at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans, Georgia.
With the 12th seed, both teams will have to face the number one overall seed and the number eight seed in Group A pool play. The top finisher in each of the four pool groups will advance to semifinal action.
“Not really,” said men’s head coach Brent Kowalski, when asked if he was surprised at being the lowest seeded team. “We’ve been to nationals three straight years now and have been the 12 seed every year. It’s a bit disappointing, but we know both teams (they will be playing) and they’ll be good games.”
Women’s coach Jeff Lohman was made aware by the MCC men’s coaches that the 12 seed was likely for his squad.
“They predicted it,” Lohman said. “They’ve been there the last few years and thought we’d both be 12 because our region doesn’t get a lot of respect. I started this season believing we’re a top 10 team and I still believe it.”
On Friday, the Jayhawk women will start national tournament play against number one seed Phoenix, with game time scheduled for 9 a.m.
“Because of COVID-19, a lot of teams stream their games,” said Lohman, when asked what he knows about the opponent. “So we have some good tape on them and it’s beneficial.”
On Saturday, the women will take on Waubonsee at 9 a.m., and hope that their depth will help them be successful on back-to-back days.
“Our biggest asset is our depth,” said Lohman, who has led his team to a 9-1 overall record this season, including regional tournament wins over Lake Michigan and Jackson College. “We got 24 girls who are able to play at the college level. We have a ton of athletes and girls off our bench who could start.”
Leading the women’s team is freshmen Sammy Hecht from Zeeland West High School, who has totaled 13 goals, while teammate Nora Brown from Mona Shores has scored 11.
“I think that’s another one of our advantages,” said Lohman about his squad. “We have a handful of players right behind those two, and even more impressive is how many we have involved with assisting goals.”
If all things go right for the MCC women, they will reach their goal of playing on June 9 in the national championship game.
“Realistically, we want to be playing the night of the championship game,” Lohman said. “But it’s just so hard to tell what Division 2 soccer is going to be like. We think with our depth, and (the weather) being in the mid 80’s and humid, that’ll be key. But we’re hoping to play on the ninth.”
The Muskegon men will start their tournament run on Saturday when they face number one seed Pima on 5 p.m. They will play again on Sunday against Patrick Henry at 5 p.m.
“It’s a massive step up for us,” said Kowalski about the competition at the national level, compared to the opponents his team played while building a 6-1 record. “It’s a different level at the national tournament, which is the hard part for us. It’s just a different game.”
The Jayhawks will rely on outside back Ilias Varnavides and goalkeeper Alex Kostow to keep teams off the scoreboard this weekend.
“They’ve been really good,” said Kowalski about the two leaders. “Kostow has made some key saves and he’s more of a leader and really good at organizing the team. Varnavides has been here a few years, and he kind of knows the ins and outs of what’s required. He’s helped guys understand what college soccer looks like.”
Having only played seven games, the Jayhawks wished that they had seen the field more, but are excited to have a chance to play in the national tournament.
“The teams are all high level,” Kowalski said. “Any day you can get a chance to beat someone or lose. You have to make sure you’re ready, because the turnaround is super tight. That’s not common in season, and sometimes it’s hard for guys to prepare mentally. We’re a little more prepared in what it takes to be there, given our recent experience.”