November 19, 2013

My Championship Experience - Men's Soccer Edition

My Championship Experience is a diary blog written by Summit League student-athletes detailing their experiences at each of the 19 Championships.

Western Illinois senior Husref Jupic writes about his experience at the 2013 Summit League Men's Soccer Championship:
Thursday, November 14
I woke up and attended class at 11 a.m. just as I’ve done each and every Thursday all semester long, but there was something different about that day. It was tourney time! I sat there in class trying to be attentive, but there were other things on my mind. Attaining a third straight Summit League title was all that I could think about. After class I took my daily nap and headed out to the field for training. The team was buzzing with excitement for the ever-impending Summit League tournament game. We had a solid training session and headed back to get ready for the Summit League banquet.

I was proud to be a part of Western Illinois Athletics because they did a great job of hosting the dinner. My teammates and I maxed out on pasta and breadsticks to gain the carbohydrates necessary for our match against Oral Roberts. Next it was time for the awards to be given out. I was fortunate enough to be named to the First Team All-Summit League. It was a little awkward taking the First Team picture, as I was the only player not from Denver on the squad. After the banquet we had a quick team meeting and I headed back to my apartment to get a good night’s sleep for the game ahead.

Friday, November 15
Friday was game day. It was the beginning of our journey to win our third straight Summit League title and we could not have been more ready. We had been preparing all year long for this moment and my teammates and I were anxious to get on the field and showcase our abilities. We had lost to Oral Roberts earlier in the season 2-0 after giving up two early goals, so we were also ecstatic for the opportunity to redeem ourselves in the tournament. We had a team breakfast at 10 a.m. and began to mentally prepare ourselves for the task at hand. Denver and IUPUI played before us and when we learned that Denver won the game 5-0 we had extra motivation to win our game against Oral Roberts so we could play Denver, who had beaten us 2-1 in the regular season.

Like many games throughout the year, we gave up an early goal to ORU in the first half but we responded well and never put our heads down. We were able to get a goal back by half time and ended the first 45 minutes tied at 1-1. We started off very strong in the second half and scored two goals in a span of five minutes to go up 3-1. In the dying minutes of the game there was a bit of a wrestling match between the two squads but that stuff happens from time to time with emotions running high and everything on the line. From there our fans got behind us and willed us to a 3-1 victory. We were pleased with our performance and excited to be one step closer to our third straight Summit League title.

Saturday, November 16
On Saturday we met for a light training session that was moved indoors due to inclement weather. We had a nice little jog and stretch, got some touches on the ball, and talked about how we would play against Denver in the Summit League Final. We were well aware of the challenge that lied ahead but we were coming together as a team at the right time as we tend to do each year come tourney time. We knew that we would have a full fan base behind us on our home field and I was overjoyed at the thought of playing my last home game wearing the Western Illinois soccer jersey.

Sunday, November 17
We had gotten word that there might be some severe weather come game time but severe might have been an understatement. I’ve heard rumors that on our walk from the locker room to the field that one of the smaller freshman was nearly swept away by a strong gust of wind. Whoever dubbed Chicago as the “Windy City” clearly has never visited Macomb, Illinois. Because of the wind and lightning there was a 45 minute delay to the game but nothing could deter or focus on the prize ahead of us. We paid no mind to the elements, had a solid warm up, and took the field for kickoff.

The first half was fairly even, both teams having decent looks at goal, but we entered halftime knotted at zeros. We were pleased with the first half because our Achilles heel all season long had been giving up an early goal and having to overcome a deficit. Coach Johnson gave us a good talking to at halftime, encouraging each player to lift their play higher than they had all season long. The second half was a lot like the first, in that both teams had their chances. Unfortunately for us, Denver went up in the 51st minute on a good cross and better finish. We applied pressure for the remainder of the game, hitting the wrong side of the post in the 70th minute, but couldn’t get a goal past Denver’s stingy defense.

The loss was an especially difficult one to swallow for myself as well as the other three seniors on the squad. Watching another team lift the Summit League trophy on our home field was one of the worst feelings in the world. After awards were handed out to individuals and teams I sat there in disbelief that my career had just come to an end. I was consoled by my teammates who met me with gratitude for all of the blood, sweat, and tears I have put into the program. I couldn’t be prouder to have played four years for Western Illinois. Coach Johnson let all the seniors know, as he does each year, that once you’re a Leatherneck you’re always a Leatherneck.

On behalf of Western Illinois and the rest of The Summit League I wish nothing but the best for Denver in the NCAA tournament.

Don’t forget to check out the next edition of My Championship Experience as it follows the Volleyball Championship, Nov. 22-23 and throughout the 2013-14 season for coverage at each of The Summit League Championships.

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