When it came time for the NCAA to put together the 57-team field for the Division III men’s soccer tournament, the selection committee rewarded UW-Whitewater for its 15-2-2 season—which included a 16-game unbeaten streak—rather than punish the Warhawks for a 4-1 season-ending loss to UW-Oshkosh.
The Warhawks’ reward? They get to host a first-round regional tournament Saturday and Sunday at Fiskum Field.
“Our men’s team had a great year,” Warhaw coach Greg Henschel said. “The NCAA took our entire season into account. Letting us host is a statement on the quality of the people we played and the fact that Whitewater has hosted a lot of big NCAA events.”
Whitewater plays Dominican University (16-3-1) in an 11 a.m. regional semifinal Saturday.
Barring overtime, that game should end just a few minutes before the Warhawk football team hosts UW-Platteville at adjacent Perkins Stadium. Ambitious fans will be able to attend both events.
The second semifinal, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, matchess Washington University of St. Louis (13-4-2) against Carthage College (13-6-2).
Interestingly, Whitewater and Dominican play their regular-season home games on natural turf. Washington and Carthage play their home games on artificial surfaces.
The winners will play at 1 p.m. Sunday. The regional champion advances to one of the four four-team sectionals. The Final Four will be played Nov. 23-24 in Orlando, Fla.
On Oct. 24, the Warhawks scored a 1-0 victory over Dominican, a school located in the Chicago suburb of River Forest.
“Of our 19 matches, that was the one I enjoyed most watching,” Henschel said. “Both teams are disciplined and both are very skilled.
“We created great scoring chances that just didn’t go in that day. We played quite well. I don’t think a 1-0 score is indicative of how well we played.”
Henschel expects nothing less than a challenge when the Warhawks and Stars tangle in Saturday’s rematch.
“It’s so hard to beat a team twice,” Henschel said. “They’re obviously a very good team. It will be an intensely contested match.”
Whitewater’s leading goal scorer is Luke Buchholz, a Whitewater High grad. He has nine goals, but his minutes have decreased as the rigors of a college season have taken a toll on the freshman.
Julius Sekyi is second on the team with seven goals. Five players have at least four goals apiece.
“Everyone is involved offensively. It makes it difficult for teams to play us,” Henschel said.
Whitewater has thrived this season, however, not on its scoring prowess, but on its ability to control play in the middle of the field. Two of the Warhawks key midfielders are Abdoulaye Camara, from the African nation of Burkina Faso, and Australian Addison Blake.
Henschel has been incredibly impressed with the play of Camara, who posted near-perfect scores on his college entrance exams.
“We need Abdoulaye to control the midfield,” Henschel said. “He wins the 50-50 balls. He connects the dots. He links our defense to our (offensive) attack.”
Warhawk goalkeeper E.J. Sesselmann has started 15 games and has allowed just 11 goals in more than 1,600 minutes.
“E.J. has been a rock for us,” Henschel said. “He’s about 6-foot-5. He’s physically gifted.
“I hope for him and our senior group that this team is able to advance to the next round.”
Two of the seniors are Milton High grads. Dave Braden, a midfielder and one of the Warhawks’ co-captains, has one goal and an assist. Zach Groelle serves as an assistant coach.
Whitewater has earned an NCAA Division III tournament berth six times (1986, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005), advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2001 and 2002.