Our soccer team gave it their all and it paid off, writes sports journalist Callie Hummel.
Tulsa went into the American Athletic Conference Championship tournament at #2 in the country by the United Soccer Coaches and receiving many awards and recognitions in the prior week. Alex Meinhard, forward, was unanimously voted the Offensive Player of the Year. Meinhard currently leads the team with 12 goals this season. Mariano Fazio earned the Defensive Player of the Year and was unanimously voted onto the all-conference first team. Henry Sach, the Midfielder of the Year, also earned first team all-conference. Alex Lopez was awarded both Rookie of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year for his first season playing with the Hurricanes.
Meinhard, Fazio, Sach, Lopez and Chase Bromstedt, were all placed on the first team all-conference team. Meinhard and Fazio were unanimous decisions for this team. Malik Henry-Scott was picked for the second team all-conference.
Tulsa also earned the Fair Play Award, which is given to the team that has the fewest yellow and red cards. This is the first time in league history that a team has earned all seven of these major awards. Head coach Tom McIntosh instills the importance of a team saying, “Obviously the individual deserves the award, but it is a byproduct of how the team performs.”
Tulsa’s first game, the semifinals, brought them head-to-head with SMU. The two teams had already played twice in regular play, proving to be tough competitors after the first game ended with a Tulsa win with seven seconds left in the second overtime, and the second a 0-0 tie. With Tulsa ranked #1 in the tournament and SMU #4, the two teams faced off on Nov. 11.
The first half went by without goals from either team. A clutch save by Lopez when an SMU attacker had a lone break away in the final minutes of the first half meant the second half would start out at 0-0. Tulsa’s top two goal scorers, Meinhard and Henry-Scott, are both out of the championship tournament due to injuries. While this could have been a big hit to the team’s mentality and confidence in being able to win, midfielders and new forwards stepped up to ensure the team’s victory.
15 minutes into the second half, Mitchell Cashion, who had been controlling the ball and continuously moving it toward Tulsa’s attacking goal, dribbled around his defender and crossed the ball into the middle of the box. Tom Protzek, a midfielder who traditionally sets up the goal with the assist or third touch, ran through the box and sent the ball flying past the SMU goalie for a 1-0 lead.
With more than 20 minutes of the second half played, SMU got another breakaway that was immediately stopped by Fazio but left him rolling on the ground clutching his ankle. Fortunately, after taking a few minutes to walk off the injury, he was back to playing. In the final nine minutes of the game, Fazio got the ball in an attacking position.
A give and go in the attacking box from Fazio to Til Zinnhardt, who sent the ball up into the air in front of the goal, Fazio in the middle connected with the ball and headed it into the top right corner of the net. This goal by the Defensive Player of the Year put Tulsa up 2-0 with less than 10 minutes left in the game and instilled more confidence in the team that they would be going onto the championship game.
The conference final was played on Sunday Nov. 14 with Tulsa, seeded #1, and UCF, seeded #2. In regular play, UCF won the first game 2-3, but Tulsa came back the second time they played and won 2-1. Tulsa won the game Sunday again with a final score of 2-1 against UCF, making Tulsa the conference champions for 2021.
“I am proud of our guys for going for it and chasing that trophy,” said Head Coach Tom McIntosh, “I thought our substitutes were tremendous and I am so happy Will Edwards and Marcos Moreno because they took advantage of their minutes. We have more depth up top than we did a year ago and I think we’ve found more ways to score goals than besides relying on the two guys up top. Obviously we miss Alex Meinhard and Malik Henry-Scott because we want them to be a part of it, but we have other players who can help us win games.”