2023 Regional Championship: Gophers Remain On Top
(Pictured above) Junior Goalkeeper Ryan Everhart backed up a defense that only conceded one goal all weekend en route to claiming another regional title.
*Photo credit AV sports photography
The Gophers completed a successful Regional Championships in Greeley, CO, winning three out of three games to claim a National Tournament qualification bid as well as ending the year ranked number one in the region for the third year running. As the National Tournament is coming up fast, here's how Minnesota claimed their region 5 crown:
Minnesota vs. Air Force (group stage game #1)
Gold ran into a familiar opponent in their first group game of the regional championships, taking on Air Force. Playing them a year ago in the regional championships, the Gophers carried away a 3-0 victory, so they were expecting a desire for revenge from Air Force. Air Force entered the regional tournament ranked #13 in the region.
The game started a little tense from both sides, each team just figuring each other out. The Gophers grew into the game quickly and forced a great number of Air Force fouls, but none of the resulting set pieces would pay dividends. The sides would play out a cagey first half tied at 0-0.
On to the second half and Air Force wasn't overly threatening offensively, but Gold was struggling to find the back of the net. despite hitting the frame of the goal multiple times throughout the second half, it would take until the final minutes of the game for the levee to break, as Brzakala found himself well placed in the box to control and finish right in the bottom corner. Air Force was still unable to generate any offensive production as the clock ran out to give the Gophers a hard-earned 3 points to start their regional campaign.
Minnesota vs. New Mexico (group stage game #2)
Having secured an initial 3 points in the group over Air Force, a win would take Minnesota into the national qualifier game. Facing them now was a new opponent to the region 5 championships, newcomer Mexico State who entered the tournament ranked #12 in the region.
Minnesota started the game in good form, causing turnovers in the Lobos backline and generating numerous chances, including a goal narrowly disallowed for offside. Their pressure would continue into the middle of the half, as a driving run by freshman midfielder Sol Lee saw a clever shift of the ball past an attempted tackle, leaving no doubt as he was brought down in the box for a penalty. Yarmulnik dispatched the ensuing effort and the Gophers were up 1-0 into halftime.
The Gophers came out energized in the second half, the backline continuing their dominant play on the weekend as New Mexico could barely get a hold of the ball in the Gopher half. Remington would put the game beyond reach midway through the second half as he volleyed a clever flick from Hoyt past the keeper. Completing a 2-0 victory, Minnesota moved on to the national qualifier game for a chance to earn an automatic bid to the national tournament.
Minnesota vs. Minot State (national qualifier game)
The Gophers would come up against another newcomer to the region 5 tournament in the national qualifier game, 6th-seeded Minot State. The Beavers had reached the qualification game via two close 2-1 victories over Creighton and Denver in group F, placing them first in their group and pitting them against Minnesota for a shot at the National Tournament.
The Gophers started with complete dominance as the ball barely left Minot's half for the first 30 minutes of the game, and the Beavers were lucky to keep 11 men on the field. Though chance after chance passed, the breakthrough finally came after 30 minutes as O'Rourke won an initial header off a corner, and Yarmulnik steered his ensuing header into the goal to take a deserved lead. The Gophers didn't stop there as O'Rourke was central to the action once again, leaving his defender in the dust on a corner, and the scrambling Beaver defender leveled a clumsy challenge to give Minnesota a penalty. The first effort was saved well, but the bounce from the save led to a Beavers own goal as the defender inadvertently put the ball in the empty net to put the Gophers up 2-0 into halftime.
The second half carried on much the same as the first for the Gophers, as the Gopher backline continued to stifle Minot's direct buildup and hem the play in the Beaver's half. The lead would grow as Wakahara would unleash a fierce shot that the keeper could only parry, as Yarmulnik was in the right spot to tuck in an easy finish. Yarmulnik would complete his hattrick as a lovely set-up from Goldstein and curling finish would put the Gophers up 4-0. Minot was able to get a late consolation goal, but the Gophers claimed a comfortable 4-1 victory to send the squad back to the National Championship Tournament.
Region 5 Championships recap
With Minnesota completing 3 wins from 3 games and sending the squad back to the NIRSA National Championship Tournament, the Gophers also locked up a #1 ranking in their region for the third year in a row. Minnesota qualified for the tournament alongside fellow region 5 schools Colorado State (finishing ranked #2) and Arizona State (finishing ranked #3). In less than a week, these schools among the 24 best college clubs in the country will head down to Round Rock, TX to compete for a national title.
In addition, as Gold locked up their qualification for the championship division, that also means that the Maroon squad again has the opportunity to compete in the National Open tournament. This marks the fourth tournament in a row that Minnesota will be sending both Gold and Maroon squads to the national tournament. More info on tournament groups and schedules will follow soon. See you in Texas Gophers!