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Saints throttle Eagles for home playoff win

Holy Cross College began its post-season run, facing Judson University in the first round of the CCAC Tournament.

The fourth-seeded Saints played host to the fifth-seeded Eagles, the first time that the Saints have played an opening-round playoff game at home. 

Aggressive style gives Holy Cross early lead

The Saints came out aggressive and were rewarded with an early free kick just outside the box. Elmin Ejup took the shot, crossing the ball from the right side of the field to the left side of the net, putting it past Judson keeper Mateo Ojetso.

According to head coach Omar Gallo, that sequence of events was all according to plan.

“Going into the game, we knew we wanted to put them under pressure immediately, to transition in certain parts of the field. Actually, going into the game, the game plan was if we get a free kick there is a certain free kick we wanted to do,” Gallo said. “Give the guys credit, the discipline, the execution. They followed through in what we wanted to do.”

Although the game settled down after the early goal, the Saints kept their up-tempo play, possessing the ball in the Judson third of the field and generating scoring opportunities. Judson eventually settled down and created chances via five first-half corner kicks.

As the first half began to wind down, Juan Perez forced a turnover and drove the ball down the right side, drawing a double team and freeing up Erick Zelaya, who caught Perez’s pass. Zelaya broke free of the defense and shot the ball, keeping it down low and to the right. It made it just past a diving Ojetso to put the Saints up 2-0.

Though the Saints felt confident after the first half, Gallo said that his squad stayed focused and maintained the composure they had started the game with.

“These guys at halftime though they had the lead, they were in [the locker room] saying it is 0-0, we must maintain our composure,” he said.

Saints add insurance, clinch shutout

In the 64th minute, Jeffrey Harper crossed the ball to Perez, who was waiting down low. Perez saw the Ejup open at the top of the box.  Perez got Ejup the ball, who drilled it past Ojesto.

Facing a 3-0 deficit, Judson would rally and have a few solid attempts late, but the Holy Cross defense remained solid, and Holy Cross goalie Claudio Fuentealba would deflect the only shot that wound up on net.

Thanks to a strong offensive showing by the Saints and arguably a better defensive effort, Holy Cross eliminated the Eagles from the CCAC Conference Tournament. Gallo credited his defense.

“The guys executed [the game plan] to perfection,” he said.

This likely ends the Eagle’s NAIA tournament ambitions, as the CCAC gives out two NAIA tournament bids, one to the regular season champion and one to the conference tournament champion. Judson is unlikely to receive one of the NAIA at-large bids.

The Saints, however, continue to the second round of the CCAC tournament. They will face the Olivet Nazarene Tigers, the regular season champions. The Saints tied the Tigers in their final regular season game 2-2.

Olivet is coming off an 8-2 victory against eighth-seed Saint Xavier. And though the Saints had their own emphatic victory, Gallo said that the team would continue to approach the game the way they had approached all the others before it.

“What is important right now is rest, recovery, stay disciplined this weekend…really important will be to sit back, relax a little bit, embrace the moment, enjoy the moment, and [then] back to work on Sunday,” he said.

The CCAC has not announced the game time for the semifinal. When the game is played, the Saints will travel on the road to face the Tigers in their home stadium in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

Contact Tom at tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu.

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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 tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu.

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Sports

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.

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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 oschatz@nd.edu

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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 tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu

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‘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.