Men’s soccer wins SAA championship

Nick Vernon, Campus Carrier Sports Editor

The men’s soccer team won the SAA championship for the second time in three years last weekend.

The Vikings defeated Birmingham-Southern College by a score of 2-0 in Conway, Ark., to take home the trophy and receive a bid to the program’s first-ever NCAA Division III tournament.

Senior forward Christian Fulbright scored both goals for Berry in the championship match and was named tournament MVP. He explained how the team was able to rally from a slow start to win the championship match with authority.

“In the beginning we started slow. It took us time to realize that we belonged in the championship game,” he said. “After Birmingham’s pressure we grew into the game and felt we had the run of play going into the second half. We could tell they were fading. We were the more fit team. In the second half we were able to run at them and make good things happen.”

Senior midfielder Zak Wallingford, who picked up both assists in the game, said the chemistry he and Fulbright have built up over four years culminated in the two goals of the game.

“We worked really well off each other, and everything just clicked,” he said.

                                                                     Photo contributed by Hendrix Sports Information
Senior Christian Fulbright fights for a ball against Birmingham-Southern College in the SAA
championship match.  Berry won the championship 2-0 with Fulbright picking up both goals
from assists by Zak Wallingford. 

Wallingford said the team had a chip on its shoulder going into the championship match because they had lost to Birmingham earlier in the season.

“We had a lot of people that doubted us, and that just made it that much better,” Wallingford said. “The first 15 minutes of the game against [Birmingham-Southern] really took it to us. I didn’t know if we were going to be able to bounce back.”

Senior defender Josh Fancher explained what it was like to play in the championship match as a senior.

“Knowing that it could be the last game of my college career made it very real,” he said. “All the seniors had the attitude that we were going to give it all we had and we knew we had to get the younger guys on board to have success – which we did.”

Berry’s team was one of the smallest in the conference this year because of injuries and suspensions, and the team is also mostly made up of underclassmen.

 Head coach Richard Vardy said the team did not really know what to expect at the beginning of the season.

“We’ve had some issues with injuries and suspensions, and the small squad has gotten smaller at times,” he said. “But throughout the whole season the guys kept fighting. Every practice the guys have shown up and trained hard. There have been no days off really.”

In October, the team faced a tough road stretch in which they lost three conference games in a row.

Vardy explained how the team was able to get back on track in November before the SAA tournament.

Photo contributed by Hendrix Sports Information
The men’s soccer team finished the regular season with 12 wins, six losses and one draw.  
After their SAA championship victory, the Vikings will face Emory in the first round of the
NCAA Division III tournament. 

“Once we got back home for those last three conference games, we just really got focused and played some good team defense,” he said.

The Vikings entered the SAA tournament as the fifth seed and a major underdog.

Vardy spoke about the team’s determination in the semi-final game against Millsaps College.

“Everybody was 100 percent all 90 minutes and realized it could be the last game of the season and we defended and defendedand really came together as much as we had all season long.”

 After defeating Millsaps in the semi-final, Berry faced a Birmingham-Southern team that they had lost to by two goals earlier in the season.

 This time, however, the two goals would be for the Vikings, and the SAA championship would belong to Berry yet again.

Fulbright explained how winning the championship this year compared to winning it two years ago.

“This was a much different feeling from the championship my sophomore year,” he said. “This one was much more of a struggle. Everything seemed to go right that year, while this year we dealt with our fair share of adversity.”

Vardy explained how the team laid everything on the line in the championship game.

“We weren’t worried about if we picked up injuries, or if we couldn’t move the next day because we were so tired,” he said. “We just wanted to play our hearts out in that one game, and we’ll do the same against Emory.”

Berry will take on Emory University in the NCAA tournament on Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. in Atlanta.

                                                                                      Photo contributed by Savannah Wright
The Lady Vikings closed out the season with a 16-3 record after losing 2-1 to Centre College
in the SAA tournament semifinal. 

Berry has a small rivalry with the out-of-conference, in state, Emory Eagles soccer team. The Vikings have beaten the Eagles the past two years in regular season play, with Emory taking a narrow 1-0 victory this year against Berry.

Fancher said he is confident that if the team plays like it did this weekend, there shouldn’t be any problems against Emory.

“We have played well in our last games and our team has a lot of confidence right now,” Fancher said. “We know that Emory is a very winnable game so we are just going to keep riding the ship.”

Vardy said he expects a close game and hopes to have a lot of family and friends out as supporters in Atlanta.

 “It is going to be a toss-up between who wins,” he said. “Emory is a team we respect, but a team we know we can do well against.”

The winner of the Berry-Emory game will advance to take on either Whitworth University or Covenant College in the next round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday at 6 p.m. in Atlanta.

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