Rivalry renewed - men's soccer prepares for tough NCAC road test at OWU

701

Sophomore forwrard Mitch Tabler receives a high five
from teammate Grant Plumber during last week's second NCAC win.
SM CARAVANA / THE DEPAUW

Not much has separated the DePauw University Tigers' and the Ohio Wesleyan University Battling Bishops' soccer teams in recent years.

Since the Tigers joined the North Coast Athletic Conference before the start of the 2011 season, the Tigers and Battling Bishops men’s soccer teams have played to a head-to-head record of 3-3.

Three of those games were decided in overtime, with two coming on penalty kicks. The score from the entirety of the six games stands tied at 10 apiece.

After losing in the regular season of 2011, the Tigers got their revenge, defeating the Battling Bishops in the finals of the NCAC tournament.

A regular season win was followed up with a penalty kick win in the conference championship for the Tigers the following year.

The 2013 season went Ohio Wesleyan's way, however. The Battling Bishops sweeped the set of games and eliminating DePauw in the quarterfinals of the NCAC tournament.

That’s why whenever DePauw and Ohio Wesleyan get together, it’s a big deal.

“Without question our guys remember last year very well,” DePauw Head Coach Brad Hauter said. “The fact that our soccer page on the athletic website is of the OWU goal at home last year is a constant reminder.”

Not only do they play each other tough, but the two teams are usually at or near the top of the NCAC standings.

Over the past three seasons, the two schools have combined for 99 wins and three conference titles.

This time around, however, the teams are in a little bit of a different position. Three losses for the Battling Bishops and four for the Tigers has both head coaches baffled.

“That's nearly double what we both had combined last year,” Hauter said. “I know how we have and are responding to it, and I am excited to see how they respond to it.”

Ohio Wesleyan head coach Jay Martin was also shocked by his team's losses. 

“I would not have thought that we would have seven losses already,” he said. “Especially to some of the teams that beat us. College soccer is moving toward parity.”

The Bishops sit in third place in the NCAC standing with the Tigers just one spot back. Both would qualify for the conference tournament if the season ended today, however. As it sits right now, the Tigers and Bishops would face difficult road tests in the first round of the tournament.

“I have been doing this for many years,” Martin said. “Until recently the home field did not mean much in soccer. That has changed. Home field makes a big difference. We want to play at home. But, again, we can not focus on home field. We have to focus on what we have to do as individuals and as a collective unit.”

As in the conference tournament, home field advantage plays a large role during the regular season.

The Tigers are undefeated in four games at Reavis Stadium this year, while Ohio Wesleyan has won four of their six games at their Jay Martin Soccer Complex.

Despite their 2-4 record away from home, senior goalkeeper Jake Pezzuto is confident as the Tigers prepare for the trip to Delaware, Ohio.

“For as long as I’ve been here, we’ve played so much better on their field,” Pezzuto said. “I don’t know what it is about their place, but I’m excited to be playing Ohio Wesleyan there again.”

More news favoring the Tigers is the full-time return of senior Andy Morrison. The second leading scorer in DePauw history has been limited for much of this season with a nagging hamstring injury that has dropped his minutes significantly. This weekend, however, Hauter will look to Morrison for a spark.

“We are in the heart of the conference schedule and he is near 100 percent,” Hauter said. “It is time to make a run.”

Morrison’s return to field won’t have much of an impact on the way the Battling Bishops prepare, however.

“We have to prepare to play the whole team,” Martin said. “DePauw has many good players.  We won't mark out Andy or Julian. That doesn't mean they are not good players, they are. We just do not do that.”

Even with the energy surrounding what some would call a rivalry game, Hatuer has his players focused.

“In all honesty they are all rivals and our biggest rival is whoever is next,” Hauter said. “This week it is OWU.”

Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday evening at 7 p.m. at OWU’s  Jay Martin Soccer Complex.