Valparaiso (9-6-4, 5-1-2 Horizon)
Horizon League Championship - Brown Field
Friday - 7 p.m. - Loyola (6-11-1) - Semifinal
Sunday - 1 p.m. - Wright State OR Green Bay - Championship
This Week in Crusader Soccer: For the first time since joining the Horizon League, Valparaiso has earned the right to host a championship event at home, as the Crusader men’s soccer team hosts the semifinals and title game of the Horizon League Men’s Soccer Championship this weekend. Valpo will take on sixth-seeded Loyola Friday evening at 7 p.m., and with a win, would advance to the title match on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Wrapping Up Last Week: Valpo closed out the regular season with two more Horizon League fixtures last week, drawing with Butler on Wednesday to clinch the outright league regular season title before finishing up the league slate with a 1-0 loss at Green Bay.
Following the Crusaders: All three of this weekend’s contests will be video streamed live on the Horizon League Network, with links available at www.valpoathletics.com. Sunday’s championship match will also have an audio broadcast on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso, which will also be streamed online. In addition, live stats for all three of this weekend’s matches can be found on the official Valpo athletics website.
Head Coach Mike Avery: Mike Avery is in his fifth season at the helm of the Crusaders’ men’s soccer program, having led Valpo to three straight winning seasons for the first time in program history. Avery, who currently owns 38 victories as head coach at Valpo, has led the Crusaders to their three winningest seasons all-time over the last three years and just picked up the 2011 Horizon League Men’s Soccer Coach of the Year honor.
Series Notes: Loyola - 3-13-3 overall (1-3-2 under Avery); last meeting 1-0 Valpo @ Loyola 10/26/11 [Barden 59’; Miller assist; Zobeck shutout, 0 saves; defense allowed just 4 total Loyola shots]
Wright State - 2-8-0 overall (2-4-0 under Avery); last meeting 1-0 Valpo @ Wright State 10/7/11 [Haines 38’; Smith assist; Zobeck 3 saves, shutout]
Green Bay - 2-12-0 overall (1-5-0 under Avery); last meeting 1-0 GB @ GB 11/5/11 [Own goal 94’; Zobeck 3 saves]
Regular Season Champions: The Crusaders earned Valpo’s first Horizon League championship in any team sport last Wednesday evening,as a draw against Butler gave Valpo the one point it needed to clinch the outright title. Valpo finished the league regular season with 17 points to finish one point clear of Wright State and Cleveland State. The regular season title is the first by a Crusader men’s soccer team since the 1998 side went 3-1-1 to bring home the Mid-Continent Conference hardware.
Hosting the Tournament: With the regular season title comes the privilege of hosting the final two rounds of the Horizon League Championship. Valpo won its only prior HL Championship game played at Brown Field, a 4-0 quarterfinal win over Milwaukee in 2009. Valparaiso previously hosted the final rounds of the 1997 and 1998 Mid-Continent Conference Tournaments as well.
Raking in the Honors: Three individual award winners highlighted eight total Crusaders honored as the Horizon League handed out its postseason awards earlier this week. Stefan Antonijevic was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Kyle Zobeck earned Goalkeeper of the Year accolades, and Mike Avery was honored as Coach of the Year. Antonijevic and Zobeck represented Valpo on the First Team All-League, while Wei Ming Wong, Jonathon Smith and Guy Shabtay earned Second Team All-League honors. Meanwhile, Eric Nieto and Zev Taublieb received spots on the league’s All-Newcomer Team.
Three Straight Winning Seasons: Prior to 2009, the Crusaders had enjoyed just one above-.500 campaign in program history. That has changed recently, as Valpo clinched its third consecutive winning season two weeks ago, with still at least three games remaining in the season. The Crusaders’ nine wins are tied for second-most in a single year all-time at Valpo, just one shy of the record of 10 set by the 2009 side.
Home Field Advantage: Every year since Mike Avery’s arrival, the Crusaders have recorded at least a .500 record at home. Following the draw against Butler last Wednesday, the Crusaders are 6-1-2 at home this year, improving Avery’s record at home to 21-11-6 (.632). That home field advantage at Brown Field could come in handy this weekend as the Crusaders host the final rounds of the HL Championship.
Shutout Streak: Valpo finally surrendered another goal against Butler last Wednesday in the 75th minute of play, the first time the Crusaders had given up a tally in 24 days. In all, Valpo posted five straight clean sheets, a new program record for most consecutive shutouts. Four of those shutouts came in Horizon League action as well. The Crusaders also set the program record for longest shutout streak, holding the opposition scoreless for 548 straight minutes until the Bulldogs scored on November 2.
Zobeck Keeping It Clean: Redshirt junior goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck continues to imprint his name on the Crusader record books. Zobeck, who is running away with Valpo’s single-season shutout record (currently at 10), matched Ryan Schwarz’s career record with the blanking of UIC on Oct. 29, as Zobeck now holds 17 career shutouts. The league’s Goalkeeper of the Year, who leads the Horizon League in both shutouts and goals against average (0.67), is now tied for ninth in league history with 10 shutouts in a single season and is just two clean sheets away from the league’s career top-10 in the category. His numbers got even better in league play, as Zobeck closed the Horizon League slate with a 0.46 GAA and an .846 save percentage.
Another Player Recognized: It wasn’t just Zobeck who got recognized for the Crusaders’ string of shutouts, however. Fifth-year senior defender Stefan Antonijevic was named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week on Oct. 31 for his play at center back in the shutouts of Loyola and UIC. Over the five straight clean sheets, Antonijevic played all but one minute, and has come off the pitch for just 31 minutes in all this season.
Among the National Leaders: Valpo’s run of clean sheets helped the Crusaders move near the top of the nation in a few defensive categories. As a team, the Crusaders enter the Horizon League Championship at 16th in shutout percentage (0.53) and are ranked 15th in team goals against average (0.70). Individually, Zobeck sits in 19th place nationally with his 0.70 GAA.
Record Streaks of Results: Valpo won four consecutive games during the stretch of five straight shutouts, matching the program record for most straight victories. This year’s squad now sits with the 1997 team, which won four consecutive fixtures from Sept. 24-Oct. 5, as Crusader squads with at least four straight wins. The Crusaders also went six consecutive fixtures without a loss, going 4-0-2 between the Ohio State and Butler games, to match the program record in that regard as well, as both the 2009 and 2010 teams also enjoyed stretches of six straight matches without losing.
Sitting in the Regional Rankings: For the second consecutive week, Valparaiso is holding down the ninth position in the NSCAA Great Lakes Regional rankings. The Crusaders, who entered the regional rankings for the first time this year last week, are one of two Horizon League squads ranked this week, as Green Bay sits at #10 as well.
There’s Almost Always Drama: The Crusaders continue to keep fans in their seats until the very end with close games. With the pair of decisions last week, 15 of Valpo’s 19 games this year have been ties or one-goal decisions. The Crusaders have now had 34 of 40 Horizon League contests end as one-goal decisions or draws since joining the HL prior to the 2007 campaign.
90 Isn’t Enough: Showing up to a random Valpo game versus Horizon League competition this year, there was a better than 50/50 chance you were going to witness more than 90 minutes of soccer. Five of the Crusaders’ eight league fixtures this season went to extra time, with Valpo owning a 2-1-2 record in those contests. In fact, each of the Crusaders’ last three contests have required overtime.
Spreading the Wealth: Jonathon Smith made his first goal of the season a game-winner Oct. 29 against UIC, continuing the trend of a balanced offense from Valpo. There have now been 14 different Crusaders to find the back of the net this year, as Valpo has tallied 25 goals through 19 games. Seven different players have tallied multiple goals, led by Charles Barden’s four goals, while seven more have added one goal apiece. In addition, all nine of Valpo’s victories have featured different players picking up the match-winning goal.
Record-Setting Performance: The Crusaders opened the season with a bang on Aug. 26, scoring eight goals in the 8-0 victory over Calumet. The eight goals marked a new program record for goals in a single game; previously seven, which was accomplished twice, most recently in 1995. The eight-goal winning margin also set a new team record in that category.