They didn’t go down without a fight. That’s for certain.
The Big Red were tasked Wednesday with recreating the magic they found in their huge upset win over Ohio Wesleyan to clinch a spot in the NCAC Tournament. After coming off the huge 2-1 win to end the regular season, Denison had earned themselves a rematch with the Battling Bishops from OWU in the tournament semifinals.
Unfortunately for Denison, the Bishops were the ones to jump off to a quick start the second time around.
They struck first off a combination between two of their standout freshmen. Forward, Dom Calabrese set up midfielder, Hector Gomez to give the Bishops an early 1-0 lead after just eight minutes of play.
Seeing the ball get past Big Red goalkeeper, Dylan Brown ‘21 certainly came as a relief to the Bishops who mustered just one goal on an incredible 34 shots in the regular season finale just four days prior.
The Bishops didn’t slow down after their early goal and added a second in the 20th minute off a counter-attack finished off by Gomez ‘22.
A two-goal deficit on the road against one of Division III’s finest programs in the NCAC Tournament would ultimately prove to be too much to overcome for the Big Red. But as they had shown from the season’s opening whistle, they were not going to pack it in and quit.
In fact, Denison made things interesting in the 2nd half by turning up the pressure and finding a few holes in the Bishops’ defense. They created several scoring opportunities (including one that was called back for offsides) before finally getting on the board in the 78th minute from an Eric Buer header.
With 12 minutes remaining, the Big Red needed just one more goal to equalize and bring the game into overtime.
With their season on the line, the Big Red didn’t hold back and forced the OWU goalkeeper, J.P. Baughman ‘20 to make two of his three saves on the day.
This Denison squad laid it all on the line not only in Wednesday’s 2-1 NCAC Tournament loss, but all season long.
Senior defenseman and captain, David Jaben, was a huge part of the Big Red’s success all year long and a major contributor to the team’s never-quit attitude.
Jaben ‘19 remarks, “The biggest takeaway is just that we can compete with the top teams in our conference and the country as a whole. Ohio Wesleyan is one of, if not the most, successful division 3 men’s soccer program there has ever been, and the fact that we beat them on their field during their senior night gave us a ton of confidence. Even though we lost the rematch, I thought we played a lot better in that game compared to when we beat them, even outplaying them for long stretches of the game.”
Jaben is absolutely correct in placing his team among the conference’s best, and with a talented core of returning players next season, all signs are pointing to the Big Red taking yet another step.
This loss against OWU marks an end to a spectacular career for Jaben and also for his fellow senior teammates. The Big Red will look for new faces to step up and fill the shoes of midfielder, Adrian Miller; defender, David Reina; forward, Brandon Kozak and forward, Luis Zamora.
Of course, they will also need to replace Jaben, the team’s defensive anchor who played every minute of his senior year campaign for the Big Red.
“Between winning big games, competing in practice, grinding through the offseason, and playing the game I love with some of my best friends day in and day out, my soccer experience here at Denison was incredibly special and fulfilling. I think what I will miss most is setting goals and working relentlessly to achieve them and progress my game,” says Jaben.
After falling short to the Battling Bishops, the Big Red finished semifinalists in the NCAC Tournament with a final record of 7-8-2 (5-2-2 NCAC).