The Valparaiso University soccer team is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, as the Beacons defeated top-seeded Drake 1-0 in Des Moines, Iowa on Sunday afternoon to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
“This feels great — it never gets old celebrating championships,” said Valpo head coach John Marovich. “We talked last night about how we were at the last camp before you summit as you’re climbing the mountain. We know that last journey is hard, and sometimes you don't summit, but we were able to summit today. Credit to our players’ willingness to keep battling and keep overcoming every challenge that comes their way.”
Fifth-year midfielder Allie Anderson (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton Warrenville South [Xavier]) put home a rebound after a shot from a free kick by Addy Joiner (Chesterton, Ind./Chesterton) ricocheted off the near post in the 82nd minute. Anderson’s putback from just north of the penalty spot, her third goal of the year, gave the Beacons the lead with 8:59 to play. Anderson went on to be named to the All-Tournament Team after playing all 420 minutes of the tournament in the midfield and scoring the match-winner in the title match and was also named the Elite 17 award winner for the student-athlete with the highest GPA participating in the title match, a fitting way to close one of the final chapters of her collegiate career.
“What can you say about Allie?” said Marovich. “All the work she does in the midfield, she battles, she competes for the full 90 minutes. She’s got a little bit of flair to her. For her to get on the end of that one late and have the game-winner, you can't have a better ending than have your fifth-year senior be the one to help get the team across the finish line.”
The tournament’s Most Valuable Player was senior goalkeeper Nikki Coryell (Aurora, Ill./Metea Valley), as she posted her fourth consecutive clean sheet in goal — in the process establishing a new MVC record with 28 career shutouts. Coryell had to make four saves to earn the shutout Sunday, only one of which came after Valpo had taken the lead and which came inside the final 30 seconds, setting the stage for a raucous celebration as the clock hit zero.
“Besides being a great goalkeeper, Nikki’s just an outstanding human being and a fantastic leader,” said Marovich. She just has such a great work ethic and work rate, and is the first to give credit to everyone else. How fantastic, for her to tie the record with the semifinal shutout and then to get another one in the final to be the all-time leader — I don’t think there’s a better ending to that story either.”
The 1-0 win over the regular-season champion Bulldogs on Sunday capped a dramatic run through the MVC Tournament for Valpo. The Beacons won all four tournament fixtures by identical 1-0 scores, with three of those four goals coming post-halftime, including the extra-time winner in the tournament semifinal over Missouri State.
“I talked about last year how the regular season is like a marathon and the tournament is like a sprint,” said Marovich. “Our path this year was a lot like a 400 — four separate 100-yard sprints, but you have to sprint the whole 400. The last 100 is the toughest, and we had to fight our way through that today against a quality Drake side.”
Sunday’s journey got a bit more challenging when Valpo learned it would have to vie for the title without the services of freshman center back Anna Cup (Bartlett, Ill./South Elgin), who was sidelined due to injury. Senior Aubrey Ramey (Jacksonville, Fla./The Bolles School [DePaul]), who had played right back exclusively during the regular season, shifted over to center back for the third time in this tournament run and earned All-Tournament Team honors for her work across the back line in contributing to the Beacons’ four clean sheets.
“When you develop an environment which is about development and growth, you can live in the next woman up mentality,” said Marovich. “The standard is the standard. Aubrey steps up and has to go play center back, and has another great showing there — that award is so deserved for all the things she had to go through over the last four games. Daisy pops on at right back, but then unfortunately gets injured, and then we have to make another shuffle, moving Sam into the back line. That’s what we do — we pick one another up.”
Left back Abby White (Commerce Township, Mich./Walled Lake Central) rounded out the quartet of Valpo honorees on the All-Tournament Team. White scored the match-winner against Missouri State on Thursday to send the Beacons to the title match and spent all 380 minutes of the tournament running up and down the left side and keeping Valpo’s opponents off the board.
The conference tournament title is the third in program history, as Valpo previously claimed the tournament crown in 2005 (Mid-Continent Conference) and 2014 (Horizon League). The Beacons earned the Valley’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament with the victory and will learn their opponent during the NCAA Selection Show, set for 3 p.m. Monday afternoon on NCAA.com.
“It’s going to be great, getting to celebrate with everyone again and getting to see our name come up on the screen tomorrow,” said Marovich. “To be in the NCAA Tournament, that’s what these seniors committed to do, to help us build this in the Valley. To see them go win the regular season title last year, and now a tournament championship this year has been amazing. I’m excited for our team to get to have the NCAA Tournament experience, and wherever they send us, we’re going to go and we’re going to compete.”