Pictured is Nakilee Weni on Saturday.
Grace’s men’s soccer team earned an automatic bid into the NCCAA National Championships on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Roberts Wesleyan.
Goals from Nakilee Weni and Damon Binkley propelled the Lancers to the championship of the NCCAA Midwest Region Tournament at Miller Athletic Complex.
The match was snow-filled from start to finish and included three second-half red cards — all on the visiting RedHawks (10-7-2).
“The team faced the challenge of the weather with a positive mindset and just decided to win tonight,” said Grace head coach Matt Hotchkin. “We didn’t think the game would be pretty, and we had to take what we could get. The guys weren’t able to fully play our style, but they adapted and got the job done.”
The first half was tame compared to what was in store. The opening 45 minutes included 10 shots — 6-4 in favor of Roberts Wesleyan. But neither side could score on the slick, snowy surface.
Jon Christensen cleared a ball off the goal line defensively for Grace, but chances were few and far between as the half ended scoreless.
The match dramatically picked up intensity in the second half. Six cards were issued over the first 15 minutes after halftime, including five on the RedHawks and one on the Lancers (14-6-2).
The match reached a climax in the 75th minute. Colin Cape unleashed a vicious shot from outside the penalty box. His shot was saved by a diving effort and deflected onto the crossbar. The rebound fell to Nakilee Weni, who converted the close-range effort for the game’s first goal. In the aftermath from Weni’s goal, two RedHawks were dismissed from the game with straight red cards.
Roberts Wesleyan managed to put together an offensive attack over the final 15 minutes, despite playing 11v9. Robbie Barnhill had four saves in the second half, including several key stops as Grace clung to its 1-0 lead.
The match was secured in the final minute. A loose ball at the top of the box fell to Damon Binkley, and the freshman knocked in the decisive second goal for the Lancers.
“The guys have a story that they can tell the rest of their lives. One more memory made and more to come in Florida,” Hotchkin said. “I’m so thankful for the grounds crew guys that literally gave their whole day to us. Thanks to all who came out and supported the guys tonight!”
Overall for the match, 10 cards were handed out — nine on Roberts Wesleyan and one for Grace. The RedHawks were given a third red card at the end of the contest.
The Lancers are making their third trip in five years to NCCAA Nationals. Grace will await its seeding and opponent for the tournament, revealed on Sunday.
Grace earned its 14th win of the season against Roberts Wesleyan. Grace’s 14 wins is tied for third-most in program history and is the highest win total since 1983.