Saints drop semifinals match in overtime

The last time the Holy Cross College men’s soccer team faced the Olivet Nazarene Tigers, the two teams played a fiercely competitive game that ended in a 2-2 draw.

So, it was fitting that when the two teams rematched in the Chicagoland College Athletic Conference Semifinals, they would need overtime to decide a winner.

The game was almost perfectly even in the first half, with the Tigers taking six shots to the Saints’ five. The Saints had a bit of momentum early, taking three of the game’s first five shots, though two offsides calls would stymie their attack on a few promising plays.

The Tigers were able to generate a flurry of opportunities in the 23rd and 33rd minutes. But, the Saints defense rose to the occasion and blocked two shots and forced a third high. The Tigers earned two first-half goal kicks, but the Saints played an unyielding defense.

The teams would trade shot attempts to start the second half, but Olivet eventually got rolling on defense, denying the Saints a single attempt after a shot from junior defender Victor Sellu went wide right in the 55th minute.

Olivet did much better in their attacking zone, taking 11 shots, with Holy Cross sophomore goalkeeper Claudio Fuentealba making the two saves that came his way. After 90 minutes, the game needed overtime to decide the winner.

Once again, the Saints opened with the first shot attempt of the period, this time by sophomore forward Kevin Vidana which was blocked. Olivet, on the other hand, was able to find the game’s first goal in the 94th minute. Tigers attacker Justin Eisenmann, who had had two quality chances earlier in the game, buried his third try off a pass from Max Jasper.

Though the Saints would rally and force one more effort (a header by Sellu that went wide of the net), they would head into the second overtime frame trailing 0-1.

In the 101st minute of play, senior midfielder Axel Valenzuela put up the first shot of the period for the Saints, but it was saved by Mike Giannotta. The Saints would take two more shots, one by Sellu that was high and one by senior midfielder Elmin Ejup that Giannotta again saved.

As the in-stadium announcer began the 10-second countdown, senior midfielder Jeffrey Harper tried a last-ditch corner kick, but it was repelled and then cleared by the Tiger defense, securing their 1-0 victory.

With the win, the Olivet Tigers will advance to face the No. 2 seed Cardinal Stritch Wolves, who survived their own overtime thriller against the Roosevelt Lakers. The Tigers will host the CCAC Championship on Friday.

The Saints now fall 3-12-3 against the Tigers and finish their season with a 10-5-4 overall record and a 7-1-4 record in CCAC play.

Contact Tom Zwiller at


In a season of firsts, Saints look to extend season in playoffs

This season has had many firsts for the Holy Cross College soccer teams.

The women’s team went undefeated for the first time in non-conference regular season play (including a win over Goshen, which is also a first).

The men’s team matched it with an equally impressive 11 straight conference games without a loss, the longest in program history, which helped them to a first-ever top-4 finish in program history.

Head Coach Omar Gallo became the first coach in program history to reach the 100-win mark when the men’s team defeated Indiana University Northwest.

Axel Valenzuela became the program points leader for the men’s program, becoming the first player to total over 54 points in his four years. Lauren Cernak became the goals and assists leader for the women’s program, becoming one of the first players to break 100 career points for the Saints.

And on Friday at 3 p.m., when the Holy Cross men’s team faces off against Judson at Saints Field to begin the CCAC Conference Tournament, they will add another.

This is the first time in program history that the Saints have hosted an opening-round playoff game (they have hosted later rounds in years prior via upsets). Should they beat Judson, it would become the Saint’s first-ever first-round playoff home win, something Gallo is ready to achieve.  

“From an achievement standpoint [hosting a first-round game] has definitely been a goal for us as a program,” he said. “Like any other goal, the minute you accomplish one goal, you want to achieve greater heights.”

Saints face difficult matchup in Judson

The Judson University Eagles are by no means an easy opponent for the Saints. Back in early September, the two teams played a gritty game that ended in a 1-1 tie. The game served as a way for the Saints to learn and grow, and it was the first game of their conference undefeated streak.

“We look at [the Judson game] as a game that allowed us to continue to grow as a team and, more importantly, allowed Claudio [Fuentealba] to grow as a goalkeeper,” Gallo said. “The way we approached it a few days after that game, showing film to the players, they understood the mistakes that we made.”

The Saints will have a few critical problems to deal with. First, Judson has a dynamic offense that offers off-the-ball difficulties. The Saints must counter that dynamism with cohesive defensive play.

Judson also boasts an incredibly tall attacking line. It will limit the Saints’ ability to have high attacking lines, as the Saints like to move the ball through the air. In this game, they will be limited to the ground, where they feel they have a better advantage, according to Gallo.

“[What makes them challenging to play] is their mobility off the ball, the interchanging of their players, how big they make the field … but if we do not do our job defensively, their players are very mobile, very technically sound on the ball and have a direct mindset to go to the goal and score,” he said. “We are just going to have to be disciplined defensively.

Saints to utilize home field advantage

Judson has been a particularly tough team for the Saints historically. Including this season’s 1-1 draw, the Saints are 5-8-2, dating back to 2009. In the two squads’ last five meetings, however, the Saints have gone 2-2-1, with the Eagles having a two-goal differential advantage.

Gallo is particularly excited that the team now has a home-field advantage.

“It gives us a greater opportunity to win,” he said. “Any time you are playing at home you have the fan support, the guys are used to the environment there is no need to travel … it allows them to stay within their routine.”

Should the Saints defeat the Eagles, their likeliest opponent would be top-seeded and nationally ranked Olivet Nazarene, whom they tied 2-2 in their regular-season finale.  

The Saints, though, are not overlooking anyone. Instead, they are looking to take it one game at a time, Gallo said.

“Everyone has bought into one game at a time,” he stated. “What I appreciate the most is the mindset of the guys; they have grown through every game, and the key factor is the discipline over the course of these last 11 games.”

Women’s team looks to stay hot, pull upset

Much like the men’s team, the women’s team put together a solid undefeated streak, winning three of their last five games and securing their spot in the playoffs. Unlike the men’s team, however, the women’s team will head on the road to Bourbonnais, Illinois, to face the regular season champion, the Olivet NazareneTigers.

The Saints were not quite able to finish their season on a 4-0-1 streak. Their first-round opponent, Olivet Nazarene foiled those hopes in the season finale. In that game, the Saints lost 0-3 in a game that might seem like a bit of a lopsided affair on paper. Instead, Gallo sees it as a lesson the team can use to grow.

“As coaches, every moment is a teachable moment,” he said. “When you go back and you look at the result we had last week, we were actually pleased with the way we played from an attacking standpoint. We conceded a couple of goals that we know that if we limit those mistakes, we have a chance to actually go there and win against Olivet.”

Historically, the Saints are 0-14 against the Tigers. However, Gallo and the coaching staff both believe that the new adjustments they have made will allow them to compete with the Tigers.

“The last game we played against them, we went into more of a high pressing defensive shape,” he said. “This game, we are going into more of a mid-block and focus a lot on keeping the ball in front of us and forcing them to get impatient and pick our moments to win the ball and transition and counter them.”

The two teams are set to face off on Nov. 5 in Illinois at noon CDT.

Contact Tom Zwiller at


State of the Saints

As fall break approached, with students and faculty preparing for the relaxation of time away from the classroom, the Holy Cross College men’s and women’s soccer teams got to work.

Women’s soccer locks up playoff berth

On Oct. 12, the Saints faced off against Roosevelt University. The Lakers and Saints were tied for eighth in the conference table, and with the end of the regular season looming, the match would likely prove to be an unofficial elimination game. If the Saints lost, it would give the Lakers the head-to-head advantage, and the Saints would be behind on points. If the Saints won, it would give them a much larger margin for error, with games against Trinity, IU Northwest and Calumet being predictably winnable games.

The Saints took control of the game early, going up 4-1 in the first half. The second half proved less exciting, with the Saints adding an early goal before finishing the match with a 5-1 victory.

Their next game was on the road against Trinity International University, and the Saints drew 1-1. The game had looked like a Saints victory until Trinity was able to snatch a tie from the jaws of defeat, scoring in the 88th minute. 

After the tie, the Saints turned their attention to IU Northwest. Though there was no scoring for the first thirty minutes of the match, the Saints were able to go up 2-0, mainly due to senior midfielder Lauren Cernak, who recorded an assist and a goal. The Saints were not done scoring, with four shots finding the back of the net in a five-minute span. The Saints would add another four goals to take a 10-0 conference win.

Freshman midfielder Hannah Lemieux recorded a hat trick, scoring both the match’s first and last two goals.

The Saints carried their scoring momentum right into the next game, facing the Calumet College Crimson Waves.

Cernak scored the first goal of the match in the 8th minute, with senior midfielder Nicole Cook assisting her. Cook recorded five assists in the match and scored one goal in the second half.

Cernak’s first goal was not her last, as she would go on to score three just in the first half. 

She then scored five in the second half, with two coming in the first five minutes. Cook assisted Cernak on four separate occasions. Cernak also earned four assists herself. The performance was good enough to propel Cernak to the top of the conference points leaderboard. Cernak boasts a five-point lead on the next closest points-getter, with a chance to end the regular season as the points leader. 

Another standout performance was junior forward Taelyn Hendrickson, who scored a hat trick.

In total, the Holy Cross women scored a whopping 17 goals while conceding none. The 17 goals came on 25 total shots, compared to Calumet’s one shot.

The Saints are now 6-4-7 overall with a 5-4-3 conference record. They have had a dominant performance in their last five games, going 3-1-1 with a +28-goal differential.

Their late-season playoff push was good enough to lock in a playoff spot for the Saints. The Saints do have the potential to move from the No. 8 seed to No. 7 if they were to win their season finale against Olivet Nazarene and if Judson were to lose their final two games against St. Francis and Saint Xavier. (A draw and a loss would also work.)

The Saints’ last game of the regular season is against Olivet Nazarene University, which currently sits second in the CCAC table. The Tigers are 9-1-1 in conference play and boast a 13-0 record against the Saints dating back to 2009. In the last five matchups between the two squads, the Tigers have a 22-goal advantage over the Saints, though the 2021 meeting saw the Saints lose a close 0-1 contest.

Men’s soccer picks up two wins

The men’s Holy Cross team had last played on Oct. 11, where the team drew Roosevelt University in a scoreless affair.

Their next game was a road game against Trinity International, where they also drew, though each team scored a goal apiece this time. Sophomore goalkeeper Claudio Fuentealba had a heroic effort in the net, facing eight shots, but only conceding one.

The Saints then returned to Saints field, playing IU Northwest. Though the Saints were able to shoot 17 times in the first half, of the nine on the net, only one — sophomore forward Juan Perez, assisted by junior defenseman Victor Sellu — could find twine.

The second half proved to be much more efficient for the Saints. Though they only took six shots (with only three on the net), they scored twice, making it a 3-0 victory. Perez scored his second goal of the match, and senior midfielder Axel Valenzuela had the third.

According to the Holy Cross College athletics department, Valenzuela’s goal was enough to become the Holy Cross College men’s soccer career points leader

The win also marked head coach Omar Gallo’s 100th career win with the men’s program.

For their penultimate road game, the Saints traveled to Whiting, Indiana, to play Calumet College. Much like the women’s team, the men’s team controlled the match from the opening kick, with senior defenseman Erick Zelaya scoring a goal in the game’s first minute. Zelaya scored again in the tenth minute and scored a third time in the second half to earn a hat trick. Juan Perez added a brace, and Gabe Nyenka had one unassisted goal in the 63rd minute.

The Saints are now 9-4-3 on the season with a 7-1-3 record in conference play. In their last five games, they are 3-0-2, with a goal differential of +10. 

Holy Cross will close out its season on the road against Olivet Nazarene University, the 15th-ranked team in NAIA soccer.

The Saints have historically struggled against the Tigers with a record of 3-11-2 since October 2009. The Saints are winless in their last five meetings, going 0-4-1 with a goal differential of -10. The last time Holy Cross played Olivet when they were ranked was in 2018 and they lost 0-2.

For the Saints, the matchup has important playoff implications. Should the Saints pull off the upset victory, they would secure their spot in third place for the conference tournament. There is a chance they could leapfrog Cardinal Stritch for second place, but Stritch would need to lose their last game of the season against Saint Xavier University.

If the Saints lose, they will likely keep their current spot in third, but if Governors State were to win out, they could demote the Saints to fourth place.

The match kicks off on Tuesday at 8 p.m.


Saints unable to continue win streak against Roosevelt University

Holy Cross men’s soccer took the field Tuesday night to face off against Roosevelt University. Going into the match, Roosevelt had a 5-5 record  (4-2 on the road) and had a two-game losing streak. Comparatively, the Saints had a 7-4-1 record, as well as a five-game conference win streak. However, the Saints were unable to continue their streak, as they ultimately tied the Lakers 0-0. 

An early set of fouls on both teams set the mood for the remainder of the match. Within 15 minutes, there had already been six fouls on the pitch. By the end of the 90 minutes, there were three yellow cards thrown, and a total of 31 fouls. 

The first shot of the match would come in the 3rd minute, however the Laker’s Raul Mariscal would miss wide. Nine minutes later, Saints’ senior midfielder Axel Valenzuela would have his turn to score, but Roosevelt’s keeper would save it to keep the game at 0-0. 

The ball would then see multiple transitions to each end of the field. Roosevelt first got off a shot, this time saved by sophomore keeper Claudio Fuentealba. Holy Cross sophomore forward Kevin Vidana followed with an attempt of his own, but the attempt went wide. 

There would be two more shots, one for each team, before Valenzuela earned a yellow card for sliding into the keeper. 

By the end of the first half, the Saints and Lakers sat at 0-0. However, the low scoring did not reflect the action on the field. Holy Cross fired four shots in the first period, and Roosevelt notched seven. 

Holy Cross was off to a slow start in the second period. Within the 49th minute, however, the Saints would seemingly score. However, the goal was negated due to offsides. This was paired with a yellow card against Roosevelt, the second card of the match. 

Seconds later, junior forward Gabe Nyenka earned an opportunity via a header, but it was off target. After this attempt, there were no more shots until the 62nd minute. This time, it was senior midfielder Elmin Ejup, but he hit the crossbar. 

As the clock ticked, with no scoring, both teams grew more aggressive.Throughout the second period, Roosevelt marked six fouls, while Holy Cross had eight. 

A Roosevelt corner kick in the 71st minute would give the Lakers a much needed scoring opportunity. However, with a foul called on Roosevelt, they were unable to execute. 

In the 79th minute, Holy Cross saw two consecutive shots produce no results. The first by senior defender Erick Zelaya was saved, and the second by Ejup high. 

Both teams would fight to the end, and in the last minute of the game, a yellow card was pulled on the Lakers. 

Despite both teams giving their all, neither team would be able to find the back of the net, and the match would finish as it started. 

The Saints now look ahead to a game on the road against Trinity International University. The two teams have played 13 times since 2009 (playing twice in 2021). Holy Cross has the slight advantage of 6-4-3 in the matchup, winning the past four games of the series. 

The Trojans currently have a 6-5 overall record (4-3 conference), but are on a four-game losing streak. 

On Saturday, Oct. 15, head coach Omar Gallo looks to make this his 100th win with the program. However, it will not be an easy game for the Saints, and they must bring their all if they want another win. 

Holy Cross faces off against Trinity International University on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time in Deerfield, Illinois.

Contact Olivia Schatz at


Holy Cross drops soccer match 3-1 to Calvin

The Calvin College Knights are a formidable soccer team. Under head coach Ryan Souders, the team is a combined 185-25-10 and has an in-conference record of 105-4-2. 

Souders was first hired in 2012, when he went 16-4-1 and 12-1-1 in MIAA play, finishing in the NCAA playoffs. It would serve as a tone setter for Souders’ tenure at Calvin given that Calvin has finished first in MIAA play for ten consecutive seasons since 2012. Calvin has boasted numerous NCAA tournament runs, including a finals run in 2016. 

As of Sept. 27, Calvin was ranked 11th in the DIII rankings. So, when Calvin called Holy Cross College men’s head soccer coach Omar Gallo looking for a potential match, it would be understandable if Gallo declined. Instead, he eagerly took on the challenge. 

“When they called us looking for a game, we could have turned it down… We looked at this game we had on the schedule as an opportunity that if we were on a winning streak, can we continue to play well and if we were on a losing streak, potentially a game where we can bounce back,” Gallo said.  

The game started fairly even, with the Saints playing in the wind. Calvin, however, gained an advantage because of its disciplined passing attack and scored in the 16th minute. The goal came off a corner kick, which crossed to the far side of the field, centered at the top of the 18. Senior midfielder Chris Schau, who received the kick, put the ball up in the air and crossed it to the far side once again, where senior defender Colin Iverson scored a header. 

The goal was allowed by freshman goalie Isaias Rubio, who got the start over sophomore Claudio Fuentealba. Benching Fuentealba was a tactical decision, according to Gallo.

“We felt like it was a game where we had to give some guys a rest, and you never know when your other goalkeeper is going to get called upon,” he said.  

Rubio struggled to communicate with the backline which helped Calvin to generate some of its chances. It is something he will need to continue to work on in the future, as Gallo plans to continue to play Rubio. 

“[You] just got to understand regardless of if you are a freshman, we want you speaking up as that last line of defense there,” Gallo said. 

The second Calvin chance came off a throw-in late in the 26th minute, with junior midfielder Zach Flowerday receiving a through ball from freshman midfielder Jacob Ryu.

Holy Cross was not without its opportunities, however, as in the 37th minute, Holy Cross earned a corner that was kicked short. The ball was then crossed, with Calvin clearing it out of the 18, where it fell to freshman forward Gabe Nyenka, who just missed on a bending shot. 

Just a few minutes later, in the 42nd minute, Calvin scored off a corner, with freshman TJ McVey crossing the ball to Aguma Muhumuza, who used his head to guide the ball to the back of the net. 

With Holy Cross trailing 0-3, Claudio Fuentealba would come into the net for Holy Cross. Fuentealba would earn the clean sheet with two shots and two saves.

On a routine goal kick in the 55th minute, Calvin sophomore goalkeeper Kaelen Matascastillo passed the ball forward to Muhumuza. The defender lazily caught the pass, and Axel Valenzuela would steal the ball, poking it forward where he beat Matascastillo one-on-one.

The goal would make it 3-1, which would be the final score for the Saints. 

While the loss snaps the three-game win streak the Saints were riding, the loss should not negatively impact the team’s mentality when they resume conference play,

“What we said to the guys: there is nothing to be disappointed about… We made three mental errors, and overall we played very well… if anything, it is going to continue to give us confidence,” Gallo said.

The loss drops the Saints to an overall record of 5-4-1, but their conference record of 2-1-1 will remain the same. 

The Saints will resume action Saturday when they face off against St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. EST. 

Contact Tom Zwiller at


‘Disciplined’ Saints scrap out 1-0 win over St. Francis

The Holy Cross men’s soccer team completed a road trip sweep Wednesday night, defeating St. Francis 1-0, days after a 2-1 triumph at Governors State. The Saints are now 2-1-0 in conference action and 4-2-1 overall since a season-opening blowout loss to Bethel. With the victory, Holy Cross now carries seven points to place 4th in the CCAC standings. The Saints started 0-3-2 within the conference last year, so head coach Omar Gallo is pleased with the early success in 2022.

“It’s always important to start strong, and anytime you get wins on the road, it allows you to have more confidence for your home matches,” Gallo said. “Anytime you can get the results on the road — especially a W — it takes a lot of weight off your shoulders as you continue to move forward.”

The match began unfavorably for Holy Cross, as the Saints were pitted against a strong wind in the first half. St. Francis outshot Holy Cross 11-6, but sophomore goalkeeper Claudio Fuentealba recorded four saves to take a scoreless tie into halftime.

As the second half began, Gallo directed several key changes that opened up the offense. Senior midfielder Marcos Hernandez and sophomore midfielder Archimed Sabu were moved toward the middle of the field. The Saints also focused on feeding the attack through the center and attacking midfielders along with the striker. When it all came together, Holy Cross turned the tables and outshot St. Francis 12-9 in the second frame.

In the 67th minute, Holy Cross struck for the game’s only marker. Sophomore forward Kevin Vidana found the back of the net for his first collegiate goal. Though the official assist was attributed to freshman midfielder Tristan Alfaro, Gallo cited sophomore defender Martin Von Thun and his throw-in as the spark plug. 

“This year, we haven’t been able to capitalize off [Von Thun’s long throws]. Sure enough, the goal came off a long throw from Martin,” Gallo said. “What impressed us the most was Kevin’s discipline to be in the right position at the right time. The ball came out to where he wanted him to be, and he took an unbelievable strike.”

Both teams played with a high sense of urgency and intensity on a chilly evening in Joliet. By the time the Saints wrapped up their 1-0 victory, the stat sheet included 36 total fouls and 7 combined yellow cards. Four of the previous six Holy Cross-St. Francis matchups had ended in draws, so the Saints’ frontman expected and embraced the physical nature of the contest.

“I don’t think there’s any problem with having our guys play at a level that involves a bit more intensity than usual, as long as we’re disciplined and doing what we need to do to get the result in a professional way,” Gallo said. “That’s what you want from your players — to rise to the occasion. The physical component is one of the pillars of the game, and we’re able to compete at that level this year, so it’s not a problem for me.”

Just like the women’s team, the Holy Cross men will return to South Bend on Saturday for an Alumni Day battle with St. Xavier. The Cougars are scuffling early in CCAC play with just one goal scored in three conference games. They were also beaten 11-0 by Rio Grande back on August 25. The Saints will then wrap up September and the homestand with a non-conference date with Calvin College on Tuesday.


Holy Cross women earn draw with St. Francis

The Holy Cross women’s soccer team wrapped up a two-game visit to the Chicago area by tying the University of St. Francis, 0-0.

Tuesday night’s result marked the Saints’ fifth draw of the year, but this one was especially crucial in the context of conference play. Holy Cross dropped its first two CCAC matches at home, but has now secured four points in two road games after a Saturday win at Governors State. 

St. Francis entered the contest on an offensive power surge, having netted eight goals in its previous two outings to obtain a record of 6-1. However, Holy Cross was up to the challenge, holding the Fighting Saints to less than two goals for just the second time this season and outshooting the opponent 25-16. For Saints head coach Omar Gallo, Tuesday’s defensive statement was all about adjustments.

“The game plan was to defend in a mid-block, but what I appreciate the most about this women’s team is their ability to improvise and adapt with the flow of the game,” Gallo said. “St Francis’ front six is unbelievable in the attack, and, with them putting three in the back, our girls identified that immediately. We had to change our style defensively and went into a high-pressing mode, eliminating their buildup from there.”

Though little squeaked through the Saints’ cohesive back end, whatever did was managed well by sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Primack. The Illinois native made six saves en route to her fourth shutout of the season and second consecutive clean sheet. As Holy Cross prepares to enter the heart of conference play, the netminder is on her game.

“The best way to describe [Primack] is consistent,” Gallo said. “The goalkeeping position is all about confidence, and right now she’s riding the wave of her confidence. When she was called upon in these last couple games, she stepped up and made some key saves.”

Further up the pitch, the Holy Cross offense pressured St. Francis with a season-high 25 shots attempted. In the Saints’ first two CCAC losses, they were outshot 54-27 by Cardinal Stritch and Judson. Since that troubling start, they have outdone Governors State and St. Francis by a margin of 44-33 in the shot department. Senior midfielder Lauren Cernak has spearheaded the turnaround, posting a team-best nine shots on Tuesday. She also scored and assisted twice in the week leading up to the St. Francis match. Coach Gallo set a six-shot goal for her on Tuesday, and Cernak exceeded expectations.

“The conference knows who [Cernak] is, so she’ll be manmarked at all times,” Gallo said. “It’s our job as a coaching staff to find ways to be creative and put her in situations where she’s had success in the past. She’s been able to buy into that over the last couple games, and setting a target for her really paid off.”

Holy Cross now carries an overall record of 2-2-5 and a conference mark of 1-2-1. The Saints currently sit in 9th place among the CCAC’s 14 teams, but the remaining nine conference matches yield ample opportunity to climb. With September nearing its close, the Holy Cross women are poised to emerge from the pack.

“What I enjoyed about my team is that they were frustrated after the game because they wanted to win,” Gallo said. “It shows me that I have a group who’s hungry right now.”

Looking ahead, the Saints return to South Bend to host CCAC foes in St. Xavier (Saturday) and Indiana University-South Bend (Wednesday). St. Xavier, much like St. Francis, carries a dynamic offense into the contest after a 5-2 victory over Governors State. The Cougars have been vulnerable on the back end, though, allowing multiple goals in three of their last four games. Meanwhile, IU-South Bend is off to a brutal start, allowing 50 goals and scoring none in an 0-7-0 opening.

“We have to build off the momentum of our defensive work that we’ve had the last two games,” Gallo said. “If we do well defensively, we should put ourselves in position to get a W. Though the results have been great on the road, there is a sense of urgency to get three points on Saturday.”


Primack, Nyenka take on leadership roles for Holy Cross soccer

Like most athletes, Holy Cross sophomore goaltender Taylor Primack has role models who inspired her to play her chosen sport. For Primack, those players are Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd, both of whom played on the 2015 US Women’s World Cup team. 

Unlike most collegiate athletes, however, Primack waited until the 4th grade to begin playing soccer competitively. The love of the game came almost instantly, with Primack going all in after the women’s team won the World Cup in 2015.  

Primack has been a goaltender almost her entire athletic career, realizing that she loved the position from her first game in net.

“I just love flying through the air … I love getting the rush of taking a girl 1-on-1, throwing myself in front of the ball and being able to guide my back line,” she said.

Primack is just a sophomore, but she has been starting in net for both years for Holy Cross, recording 24 starts in 24 games. While some might be nervous to start as a freshman, Primack was ready.

“I kind of knew going into it that what it was going to be, but for me, it didn’t change anything,” she said. “I’m never going to sit here and be like, oh it’s good enough just because I am starting, just because I’m playing”.

Though there were some adjustments to the college game (Primack says her biggest adjustment was the change in intensity and speed), Primack recorded an strong first year in net. In her 16 starts, she faced 124 shots, allowing just 14 goals for a save percentage of 88.7%. She recorded eight total shutouts (a school record) and had a record of 8-4-2. 

The performance was good enough to get her onto the CCAC All-Conference Second Team.

Primack has maintained a good save percentage this season, allowing 11 goals on 58 shots (81%), and has recorded three shutouts. 

Primack attributes the difference in performance to a combination of things, injury being among them. Nevertheless, she is not letting it stop her or her team.

“The biggest key with that right now is just to let that go because we can’t change it,” she said. “It’s gone, we’re in conference play.”

The season has not been going the way the Saints would have liked.

“We have been a little frustrated,” she said. “We know how good of a team we are; that is not a question, the talent on the team … that’s not questionable.”

Primack believes that the squad is capable of solid play and can make a turnaround on the season.

“I expect us to make the tournament, I fully do,” she said. “I think we are fully capable of it, I expect nothing less.” 

With a 2-0 win against Governors State last Saturday, a game in which Primack recorded a shutout, that turnaround might have just begun. 

Also boasting a win over Governors State is the HCC men’s junior forward Gabe Nyenka. Unlike Primack, Nyenka has been playing soccer from a young age.

“I was born in Liberia. Back home kids used to play soccer, just kicking it around, as soon as you can walk,” he said.

Even from a young age soccer has always been Nyenka’s passion. As child, Nyenka played soccer year-round, mostly casually with friends and family. 

Upon arriving at Park Center Senior High School, Nyenka tried out for his high school soccer team as a sophomore and made the varsity team.

“When I first joined people thought I wasn’t going to make the team, I ended up starting,” he said.  

Playing in Minnesota, Nyenka met a Holy Cross alum on a Sunday league team and connected him to Coach Gallo. Once Nyenka met Gallo on a recruiting trip in November, he knew where he wanted to play.

“When you talk to other coaches, you can feel the difference when it is just about soccer and when it’s about the person,” Nyenka said. “When I talked to Coach, it was more about him seeing me as his son.”

Starting for the entirety of his career in high school was a trend that Nyenka brought with him to Holy Cross. In the past two seasons, he has started in 23 games of a possible 23. In that time, Nyenka has recorded 11 goals (the 10 he scored in the year prior led the team) and 8 assists. 

Though Nyenka is a consistent starter, that is not what matters most.

“If I’m starting, I’m helping the team, if I’m not starting then the person trained better than me that weekend, so that person is the better person for the team,” he said. “I know me playing is going to help the team win so I work hard to be in the starting lineup.”

Despite the team starting 2-2, Nyenka feels that the team is poised to perform better in conference play (where they are 1-1-1) mainly because the team is connected, like a family.

“We are more connected, because of Coach Omar, and our captains me and [senior Kamoy Creary]. 

This season’s emphasis has been off-the-field bonding, which was not as strong in years prior, according to Nyenka.

“Get to know the person first before soccer so you guys are able to bond,” he said. “When you are on the field, you play harder you work harder for that person, because now that person is like a brother to you.”

Nyenka, a business major, stated he has ambitious plans after graduating from Holy Cross.

“I really want to open a business back in Liberia,” he said. “I’m thinking more like on the sports side as well, creating a school for kids to come to school and play sports, but focus on academics as well. The hope of that is to bring kids over to the United States to play in college so they can earn a college degree.”

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Saints sweep Jaguars, look ahead to St. Francis

It is no secret that both the Holy Cross College men’s and women’s soccer teams needed to earn points in conference play.  

The men’s team’s last win was against Goshen back in August. Since then, they had lost to Lourdes University, Cardinal Stritch and Judson. The team had played two great conference matchups but earned just one point, thanks to the Judson draw. 

It was with this in mind that Holy Cross went to University Park, Illinois, to face Governors State. 

Early on, the game appeared to be headed much the same way the game against Judson ended — a draw. However, in the 53rd minute, senior midfielder Axel Valenzuela passed the ball to senior midfielder Elmin Ejup, who was able to score from 15 yards out, putting the Saints up 1-0. 

However, a Governors State penalty kick by Diego Camarena would tie the game up with just 23 minutes left. 

Holy Cross would score again in the 75th minute, with sophomore forward Isaac Filippo scoring from close range, assisted by junior defender Victor Sellu. The goal would hold for Holy Cross, giving the Saints their first win in conference play this season. 

Freshman Isaias Rubio got the start in net over sophomore Claudio Fuentealba — an adjustment that may become the norm for the Saints. Rubio did allow the penalty kick but recorded five saves in his 90-minute outing. 

A trend worth noting in the men’s team is through three games in conference play, Holy Cross has out-fouled its opponents in every game. Against Cardinal Stritch, Holy Cross out-fouled the Wolves 20-19, and against Judson, the Saints out-fouled the Eagles 20-17. The trend continued against Governers State, as Holy Cross out fouled the Jaguars by eight, 26-18.

The win moves Holy Cross to 3-3-1 on the season with a 1-1-1 record in conference play. The Saints continue their road trip on the Wednesday when they take on Saint Francis in Joliet, Illinois.

Historically Holy Cross has found success against the Fighting Saints, with the College recording a record of 8-2-4. The Saints had a winning streak of five games against Saint Francis from 2012 to 2016, but from 2017 the two teams have been relatively even, with a record of 1-1-3.

Similar to the men’s team, the women’s team had not won since August against Goshen, though the women tied Lourdes and lost to Cardinal Stritch and Judson. 

Unlike the men’s team, the Saints scored early against Governors State, with senior midfielder Olivia Shaw scoring from 15 yards out, with an assist from senior midfielder Lauren Cernak. The goal would stand through the half, with the Saints adding to their lead in the 69th minute. This time it would still be Cernak with the assist, but junior forward Taelyn Hendrickson would score with a shot from 17 yards out. 

The Saints are now 2-2-4 overall, with an in-conference record of 1-2. Governors State, meanwhile, fell to 0-4 with a conference record of 0-3. 

Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Primack has earned two shutouts on the season, with one against Governors State and Indiana University East.

The Saints will continue their conference play with a trip to Joliet, Illinois, on Tuesday. The women’s game will kick off against the Fighting Saints at 6 p.m., followed by the men’s game at 8 p.m.

The women’s team boasts a poor record against Saint Francis. They are 3-10 dating back to 2009. In their last three matches, however, the Holy Cross is undefeated, winning the three games by a combined margin of 7-2. 

Contact Tom Zwiller at


Holy Cross ties Judson on a rainy pitch

Wearing gray warmup uniforms that matched the South Bend skyline, the Holy Cross men’s soccer team prepared to play their second conference game of the season, facing the Judson University Eagles. 

Saints Field was not particularly chilly, but the pitch was damp, with the clouds overhead threatening to add more rain during the match. However, associate head coach Duma Magagula said that the Saints were not worried about the adverse conditions.

“We tried to maintain [our game plan], and I thought the guys did a good job today,” Magagula said. “Our main focus was how can we defend [these] guy’s height; these guys did a good job with that.”

The two teams were evenly matched throughout the affair, but the Saints found an edge early. 

In the 18th minute, senior midfielder Axel Valenzuela had an excellent counter. Despite the slippery ball and pitch, Valenzuela controlled the ball and beat defenders before being fouled inside the 18.  The foul resulted in a penalty kick, which senior midfielder Elmin Ejup took. Ejup’s shot went to the lower right corner, beating the Judson keeper Mateo Ojesto, to put the Saints up 1-0.  

That result held through the rest of the half as both teams briefly retreated from the rain. 

At the half, the Saints led in shots and shots on goal, with seven shots, four of which were on target. Holy Cross’ keeper, sophomore Claudio Fuentealba, faced four attempts, but none were on net. 

The game was still incredibly even to start the second half, with both teams visibly fatigued, though both teams were still highly physical. 

In the 73rd minute, Judson put a shot on net, their first legitimate scoring opportunity. Fuentealba went up, looking to catch the ball, but was impeded and unable to grab it. Instead, the ball found its way into the back of the net, tying the game 1-1. 

The goal, scored by Judson’s Pedro Botello and assisted by Christian Horstmann, reminded Coach Magagula of the goal against Cardinal Stritch last Saturday.

“This is stuff we practice at practice,” Magagula said. “If the goalkeeper is coming in traffic, there are going to be obstacles in there, so you’re not sure if you are going to get a clean catch or not, so why don’t you play it safe by punching the ball out of there.”

The game became incredibly physical down the stretch; there were nine cautions in the second half alone, five for Judson (including an ejection) and four for Holy Cross.

Between the close loss against Stritch, and now the tie to Judson, Holy Cross has earned just one point in conference play through its first two games. However, according to Coach Magagula, there is no reason for concern. 

“Out of these two games, we got one point, which we’ll take, but looking at how the way we played,” he said.” I think that is the most disappointing part, we could have had this game. But I don’t think it’s a panic button [situation] yet”.

Instead, Coach Magagula sees the result against Stritch as a reason for optimism about the team’s growth.

“I’ll say it was a disappointing loss … but considering what we had done against Stritch in the years before, it was a great improvement for us. We couldn’t get the result, but definitely, we thought we’re getting in the right direction.”

With the tie, the Saints now sit seventh in conference play, with a conference record of 0-1-1 and an overall record of 2-3-1. 

The next game for the Saints will be against conference foe Governors State University, with the Saints making the journey to University Park, Illinois on Saturday. The match will kick off a 9:30 p.m. EST.