BLAKE LARGENT ‘22 | STAFF WRITER • While the much-anticipated Monon Bell Classic is not until November 10, spectators got an early taste of the Wabash-DePauw rivalry on Tuesday evening. After a 2-1 victory over Oberlin College last Saturday, the Wabash soccer team took the field against DePauw in a match with more than bragging rights at stake. Prior to the match, Wabash sat just two points ahead of DePauw in the North Coast Athletic Conference standings with both teams coming into play with a playoff berth in sight. After a back- and-forth match that resulted in 23 total fouls and five yellow cards, the Little Giants held the Tigers scoreless, grabbing a 1-0 victory and eliminating DePauw from playoff contention.
DePauw started off the match in control, as the Tigers dominated possession of the ball for much of the first half. “DePauw versus Wabash is always going to be a back and forth battle of possession,” Wabash head coach Chris Keller said. “15 minutes here, they have it. 10 minutes here, we have it. It’s always going to be a back and forth battle. But, we had the position of bend but not break. That’s what we did defensively.” While the Tigers held much of the possession early, the “bend but not break” defensive strategy worked for the Little Giants, who held DePauw to just four shots and no goals in the first half.
With 22:36 left in the half, Wabash had a chance to take a 1-0 lead when a pass was lifted to forward Timothy Herring ’22 in front of the DePauw goal, but Herring was unable to corral the pass with a header attempt. DePauw looked to score moments later when the Tigers’ Jack Schrepferman snuck a shot past Wabash goalkeeper Chad Wunderlich ’21, but defender Christian Aleman ’22 made a spectacular play and reached the ball prior to entering the net, saving a goal for the Little Giants. “I was able to catch up to (Schrepferman),” Aleman said about the play. “I knew that he would try to chip it over the goalkeeper, so instead of going for contact, I went around the goalkeeper to try and save it.”
Keller praised Aleman after the match. “Christian has been a fantastic addition to the team as a freshman,” he said. “He’s really adapted well from day one.”
The back-and-forth action continued throughout the first half, but Wabash struck first when forward Joseph Kaefer ’22 was able to put a loose ball into the net, giving Wabash a 1-0 lead. In the second half, both teams began to play with much more physicality, but the Little Giants were able to stop the Tigers’ offense for most of the half. With a Wabash victory looming, DePauw looked to even the score in the waning minutes of the second half. With 5:16 left to play, a shot towards the top-right corner of the goal from DePauw’s Parker James looked to be the game-tying score for the Tigers, but Wunderlich came up with a spectacular save in the air, his only save of the evening. The Little Giants held on for the rest of the match, preserving the shutout and, more importantly, the victory.
The 1-0 win is the team’s tenth shutout on the year. “Our back line and Chad (Wunderlich) have been great all year,” Keller said. “We know we can rely on them to allow less shots and get some shutouts.” While Keller continuously praised his team for their efforts, he also spoke generously about the fans.
“Thank you to all the fans that came out,” he said. “It was amazing to have all those guys come out and support us. They helped us and pushed us along the way to get this win.” Aleman also spoke of highly of the fan presence. “The feeling was exhilarating with the fans,” he said. “It’s something else when everyone is here like this.”
As of Tuesday, Wabash sits at third in the NCAC standings behind first-place Ohio Wesleyan University and second-place Kenyon College, with the top four teams advancing to postseason play. A trip to the playoffs is not yet guaranteed, however, as Denison’s 2-1 victory over Hiram on Tuesday still allows for a scenario in which Wabash will not make the playoffs. Denison (6-7-2, 4-2-2 NCAC) currently sits just two points behind Wabash in the NCAC standings, with the Little Giants’ final opponent of the regular season, Wooster (8-6-2, 4-3-1 NCAC), a mere three points behind Wabash. A loss in Saturday’s match at Wooster coupled with a Denison win over Ohio Wesleyan on Saturday would see the Little Giants finish outside of the top four spots in the conference and place the team out of playoff contention. A Wabash win, though, guarantees the Little Giants a playoff spot in the NCAC Tournament.
Aleman spoke on the possibility of a playoff berth. “It feels really good for me because I feel like I can extend my time with the seniors here and have more time with them,” he said. “As a freshman, I haven’t gotten to know them as much as I’d like to. I’d love to get to know them more and play with them more. So, possibly going to the playoffs with them is something else for me.”
Wabash will conclude its 2018 regular season with an away match against Wooster on Saturday at 12 p.m.