Nov. 9—OTTUMWA — The Indian Hills men's soccer team are just four wins away from a national championship.
Those wins won't be easy. The Warriors discovered on Tuesday just what type of tests await them in the program's second-ever trip to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament.
The Warriors, ranked ninth in the country entering postseason play, received the No. 10 seed in the 12-team tournament that kicks off this weekend at the Stryker Sports Complex in Wichita, Kansas. To get to the national semifinals, IHCC will have to go through a pair of teams that were ranked in the top five including an opponent that has already gotten the best of Indian Hills already this season.
Indian Hills were placed in Pool C with Salt Lake Community College and Barton College. Combined, the three teams have suffered just five losses in 56 matches so far this season with Barton having handed IHCC one of their two losses with a 3-1 win over the Warriors back on Sept. 1.
"The beauty of the national tournament is anyone can win it. Anyone can be beaten and it only takes four wins to win the whole thing," IHCC sophomore Jack Donlan said. "We want to give a good account of ourselves. Indian Hills isn't here to mess about when it comes to soccer. We're here, we're serious and we want to make a statement. We want to make a good account of ourselves and, in an ideal situation, win the national title. That would be exceptional."
Exceptional, but not unrealistic. Indian Hills has already knocked one of the top junior college soccer programs three times this season having edging Iowa Western both in the regular season twice before taking Sunday's 2-0 win over the 12th-ranked Reivers in the NJCAA Midwest District Tournament championship match.
"Iowa Western is a very strong team. To beat them three times is unbelievable," Indian Hills head men's soccer coach Felix Vu said. "Looking at all the potential match-ups for the district final, Iowa Western might have been the last team I would have wanted to see. You can kind of get lulled into thinking you know how to beat them when you need to have a different type of mindset going into to win a match like Sunday's."
Indian Hills will faces a stiff challenge in the program's third-ever national tournament match on Sunday afternoon, facing third-seeded Salt Lake at 3 p.m. The Bruins were ranked second in the country and enter the national tournament with an impressive record of 16-1-2, qualifying as one of four at-large selections after suffering a district championship loss to top-ranked Arizona Western.
The Warriors (9-2-4) will then play sixth-seeded Barton College (17-2-3) on Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. As is the case in the World Cup, Indian Hills will need to produce points through wins or draws in the two pool-play matches to advance into the national semifinals as the top team in all four pools will advance to the match-ups on Thursday, Nov. 16. The national tournament championship match will be held on Saturday, Nov. 18.
"I said to our guys before the (district final) that these chances don't come around that often," Donlan said. "To be in a final is special. It's a feeling you'll take home the rest of your life. All the boys will remember what it felt like to lift that (district championship) trophy over their heads. They'll get to tell their children and their grandchildren about it. Winning is special."
— Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.