With a conference championship secured, the SUNY Cortland men’s soccer team will begin chasing after a much bigger prize this coming weekend.
Winners of 12 straight games, the Red Dragons will be hosting a four-team regional when the NCAA Division III playoffs get underway this weekend.
After the Cortaca Jug football festivities between Cortland and Ithaca College conclude at the Stadium Complex — kickoff for that contest slated for noon — on Saturday, Cortland (17-2) and Morrisville State (16-3) will meet in a first round game at 5 p.m. at that same site.
Scranton (14-3-1) takes on Penn State Behrend (17-1-3) in the other first-round game at 7:30 p.m. that same evening in this tournament field of 62 squads.
The two winners will meet in the second round at Cortland Sunday, game time at 5 p.m.
Under fifth-year head coach Steve Axtell, Cortland won its 18th SUNY Athletic Conference title and first since 2008 with a 1-0 win over visiting Oneonta this past Saturday. The Red Dragons established a new school single-season record with its 17th victory, and extended its school record with its 14th shutout.
All four teams at the regional are automatic qualifiers having won their conference championships. Morrisville won a third straight North Eastern Athletic Conference title, Scranton a second consecutive Landmark Conference crown and Penn State Behrend the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference title for the third time in the last four years.
Cortland is making its 20th NCAA tournament appearance and second in three years. The Red Dragons advanced to the “Sweet 16” in 2014 with wins over Neumann and Rutgers-Newark.
The program has six top-five national finishes, including a second-place showing in 1977 and a third-place finish in 1978. Three of Cortland’s 19 previous NCAA tournament appearances came as a Division I program in 1960, 1964 and 1966 prior to the advent of Division III.
Cortland opened the season with five straight wins before falling at St. Lawrence 2-1 and Oneonta 3-0. Since those losses the Red Dragons have won 12 straight games — 10 by shutout — and for the season have outscored their opponents by a 40-8 margin.
Junior Connor Young took over in goal late in the Oneonta loss and has started since. The SUNYAC tournament MVP, Young is 12-0 with 10 shutouts, a 0.17 goals-against average and a Division III leading .965 save percentage.
Senior forward Nick Tata, senior forward Tyler Kirschner and senior midfielder Daniel Friend joined their keeper on the SUNYAC all-tournament team.
Tata leads the team with 11 goals in addition to two assists for 24 points. Kirschner has five goals and a team-best six assists, including assists on the Red Dragons’ two 1-0 conference tournament victories. Friend has five goals and four assists for 14 points.