After a devastating double overtime loss of 1-0 in last year's NCAA Division III semifinals against Amherst College, the University of Chicago men’s soccer team is headed back to the final four this Thursday, Dec. 1.
This chance at redemption comes after the Maroons defeated Gustavus Adolphus College (1-0) in a quarterfinal game on Sunday, Nov. 20. The team’s close victory was the result of a penalty kick goal in the first half by sophomore midfielder Lyndon Hu and strong defensive work from senior defensemen Rich Gillespie and Griffin Wada for the remainder of the game.
Despite below-freezing temperatures, more than 200 attendees turned out for the home game at the U. of C.'s Stagg Field, E. 55th St.
"It felt great," said Hu of his game-winning goal. "I got to give a shout-out to my boy Alex Gomas who stepped in a big playoff game... He drew the (penalty) and tucking one away felt great."
First-year head coach Julianne Sitch noted in an interview that a victory on Saturday, Nov. 19 against the University of St. Thomas (4-1) gave the team a lot of momentum going into the match against Gustavus Adolphus.
"I think we just came out strong and ready to go," said Sitch. "That belief and confidence carried over."
Gillespie and Wada appeared in their first NCAA tournament as freshmen during the 2019 season, losing in the second round to Ohio Wesleyan University (3-1). Though their sophomore season in 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19, they’re now only one game away from playing for a national championship.
With a record of 20-0-1, this year’s team has had the best winning season in the program’s 75-year history.
"We're going back to the final four again, and I feel like we're poised to win it,” said Wada. “We were a little young last year, but I feel like this (opportunity) has been building for about seven or eight years now. It's been our alumni that has built this program, we're reaping the benefits now."
This will be the Maroons’ fourth semifinal appearance in the past six years.
"I think we've done a great job this far, but we can't get stagnant,” said Gillespie. “We need to make sure that we continue making sacrificial runs to where space opens up for other players."
The national semifinal game against the Stevens Institute of Technology will take place on Dec. 1 in Salem, Virginia.