Darton forward Shenika Williams, right, fields a pass during the second half that she would turn into a goal to cap the Lady Cavs’ 4-0 rout of Muskegon (Mich.) Community College on Tuesday at nationals. (Doug Cantrell/Special to The Herald)
No. 1-seeded Darton men’s soccer team continues title march today at home at noon
ALBANY — The Darton State College men’s soccer team, which is ranked No. 1 in the nation, continues its march to the NJCAA National Championship today when it plays Western Texas at noon at home in the second round of pool play. If Darton (18-0) wins or ties, it will advance to the semifinals Friday.
Darton, which is hosting the NJCAA nationals for the first time in school history, won its opener Monday against Western Wyoming, 3-1.
MELBOURNE, Fla. — Two down, one more to go.
Well, to win a national title, it will actually take more victories than that for the Darton State College women’s soccer team, but as far as their immediate goals for this season, Tuesday’s 4-0 victory against Muskegon (Mich.) Community College in the first round of the NJCAA National Championships was a big step.
But today’s is the biggest.
“We lost four games this year that we really wanted to avenge, and so far, we’ve beaten two of those teams,” Lady Cavs coach Ken Veilands said by telephone from the tournament Tuesday evening. “(Today), we get our chance to pay back the other.”
After already avenging losses to South Georgia College and Georgia Perimeter en route to nationals, the “other” team Veilands mentioned is none other than the NJCAA’s No. 1-ranked squad, Brevard (Fla.) Community College, which beat Darton, 2-0, back on Sept. 15 in Albany. The two teams will face off again today at 9 a.m. in the final game of pool play — with the winner moving on to Friday’s semifinals, while the loser goes home.
“We’re a different team,” Veilands said. “I don’t expect the same kind of game — or the same result.”
Darton, last season’s national runner-up, comes into the matchup as a significant underdog — on paper anyway — considering the Lady Cavs (14-5) are the No. 8 seed facing the tournament favorites, who are also the hosts playing on their home field. But Veilands thinks if his team’s second-half performance against Muskegon on Tuesday is an indication of the veracity the Lady Cavs will display when they take the field today, they’ll be fine.
“(Tuesday), we started out slow. We’ve been off for more than two weeks (since winning region Oct. 27), and I think the layoff affected us. We were out of rhythm,” the coach said. “But we were a different team in the second half — creating chances to finish, moving the ball well and finishing. The first half was not your typical Darton team, but the second half was.”
Despite the fact Darton was ahead, 2-0, at halftime behind a Stephanie Anes score and an own-goal, Veilands was worried.
“The feeling at halftime was that we were not playing well, even if we were up 2-0. You could tell the girls were not happy with how they’d played,” he said. “So I just told them, ‘It’s time to step up and take ownership of this game. Take charge of it, and let’s put them away.’
“I felt like if we could come out in the second half and score right away and create some distance, the girls would feel more confident, and then I could empty our bench and rest the starters for (today vs. Brevard).”
That’s exactly what happened.
Just 10 minutes into the second half, Deanna Reali found the back of the net on a penalty kick. Shenika Williams capped the scoring at the 34:30 mark.
But it was Anes’s bend-it-like-Beckham goal that set the tone for Darton early.
“Coach said at the beginning there’s always 15 minutes of madness when a game starts,” Anes said. “Coach said, ‘Let’s set the pace.’ We tried to set the pace and everything just follows.”
It also didn’t hurt that Darton got its 11th shutout of the season from goalie Tori Danchak.
“She was great, but our defense was even better,” Veilands said. “(Muskegon) only had two shots on goal all day.”
Now all Darton has to do is beat Brevard to scratch one goal off its list, then turn its attention to the final one: winning the program’s first national championship.
“When we sit back and look at our season and gauge it, those losses stand out,” Veilands said. “But we beat South Georgia in the region playoffs, then we beat Perimeter — which had beaten us twice — (for the region title), and now here we are with an opportunity to resurrect our year and erase those defeats.
“Hopefully, the girls will be thinking about that, but I also want them to be relaxed and not overthinking it. We’ve avenged two of those losses in the playoffs, and I see no reason why we can’t avenge one more.”