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Foresters hunt for Crossroads League title

CELEBRATION: The Huntington University men’s soccer team celebrates their 3–1 victory over Indiana Wesleyan in the Crossroads League Tournament Semifinals on Nov. 3.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

The Huntington University men’s soccer team will look to claim the Crossroads League Tournament Championship on Saturday when they take on No. 10 Spring Arbor for the conference crown and a spot in the NAIA National Championships tournament field.

The sixth-seeded Foresters earned their spot in the Championship game after upsetting the third-seeded Bethel Pilots 2–1 on Oct. 31 in the Crossroads League Tournament Quarterfinals in Mishawaka, Indiana, and seventh-seeded Indiana Wesleyan 3–1 on Nov. 3 in the Crossroads League Tournament Semifinals at King Stadium.

Huntington recorded a regular season Crossroads League record of 3–4–2.

“We’ve definitely had our share of bright spots through the season, to where we’ve had some quality wins,” said head coach Russ Lawson. “Whether that be at home or on the road definitely gives us a boost of confidence throughout the year. But, I also feel like we’ve gone through a lot with adversity with a couple of injuries (and) a couple suspensions, but also not playing at our best and fighting through that; learning how to deal with that and then being able to put (together) a strong run at the end of the year.”

Spring Arbor, the top seed in the Crossroads League Tournament, enters the title game after escaping a potential upset in the Quarterfinals, defeating eighth-seeded Marian 3–2 in penalty kicks on Oct. 31. The Cougars then beat fourth-seeded Taylor 4–1 on Nov. 3 in the Semifinals to earn their spot to play for the Crossroads League crown. Being the top seed, the Cougars hosted both of their games.

Spring Arbor turned in a spotless 9–0 mark in their Crossroads League matchups in the regular season. The Cougars hold an overall record of 16–3–1 thus far in the season, losing only to No. 21 Corban, RV Olivet Nazarene and RV Madonna.

The Foresters enter the matchup playing with confidence after their journey to the title game, as Huntington narrowly escaped with a victory against Bethel and won in comeback fashion against Indiana Wesleyan, turning up the heat late in the game to get the win.

“To figure out a way to get a result (against Bethel and Indiana Wesleyan) and survive and move on helped the confidence,” Lawson said. “(The games) helped solidify our goal, because from the very start of preseason, this was our goal, this was our dream and vision. We knew from within that we had the pieces to get it done and to see it through.”

Huntington and Spring Arbor faced off in both teams’ regular season finale on Oct. 24 at Spring Arbor, with the Cougars triumphing 3–1.

The victor of the Crossroads League Championship contest will receive an automatic bid in the NAIA National Championships tournament, hosted in Irvine, California. Given their ranking, Spring Arbor will likely compete in the tournament even if Huntington wins the Crossroads League Championship, while the Foresters would need to win the title to extend their season.