The Michigan men’s club soccer team finished one of its most successful seasons in school history by making it to the semifinals of the NCCS National Soccer Championships last weekend in Phoenix, Ariz.
Led by freshman midfielder Etienne Lussiez’s four goals in five tournament games, the Wolverines (15-2) defeated Cal Poly and Penn State in the knockout rounds before losing a heartbreaking 2-1 decision to eventual champion Weber State.
“I thought we played some of the best soccer in the tournament,” Lussiez said.
Michigan got off to a very strong start against Weber State, narrowly missing great opportunities. In the opening minutes, junior midfielder Cory VonAchen’s shot hit the post, and a header from sophomore midfielder Andy Feiler bounced off the crossbar.
In fact, Weber State managed only one shot in the entire first half. But unfortunately for the Wolverines, that one shot turned out to be a goal off a breakaway.
At the start of the second half, Lussiez took a pass from sophomore forward John Berra and tied the game with a goal off his own breakaway.
“(Berra) had the ball, I made my run, and I knew he had some space to play me in,” Lussiez said. “He gave me a bouncing ball, and I got it past the defender, and then I was just hoping to get the ball around the goalie. It ended up working out.”
But there would be no happy ending for the Wolverines. Weber State scored off a corner kick with 15 minutes left to win the game.
“I’ll be honest, I think we were the better team,” Lussiez said. “But they played with a lot of heart and effort and put together a couple of great passes and goals, so I guess they deserved to win.”
Earlier in the tournament, which featured 16 teams, Michigan defeated Cal Poly 2-1. Lussiez scored two goals, including one from 25 yards out. After scoring just two goals in the entire 12-game regular season, he led the team with a breakout four-goal performance in the tournament.
“I just felt like I was in a zone,” Lussiez said. “You can never predict something like that. It just happens.”
Michigan went on to beat Penn State, 2-0, in the quarterfinals. Sophomore center back Alex Ocampo and sophomore forward Kevin Zussman both scored their first goals of the season. The Nittany Lions were considered by many to be the favorite for the title.
At the end, sophomore midfielder John Presnell was named to the All-Tournament Team for solid two-way play.
This year’s strong showing marked a return to glory for the Wolverines, who won the national title in 2006 and made it back to the final the following year but failed to reach the tournament last year.
The team returns all but two starters next year, and most of their biggest contributors in the tournament, like Lussiez, Presnell, Ocampo, and Zussman, are freshmen or sophomores.
“I can’t wait for next year,” Lussiez said. “I think we can win the national championship.”