| Exploring New Boundaries
The Golden Grizzlies advanced farther than any other team in league history.
Every season the Oakland University men’s soccer team has been the team to beat in the Mid-Continent Conference. The Golden Grizzlies had five regular season championships in eight seasons to prove that.
This year, the Grizzlies were not feared after going 5-12-1 in the previous season, missing the Mid-Con Tournament for the first time in school history. That is bad enough, but it happened with Oakland serving as host of the conference championship.
With a different league name, The Summit League, the Golden Grizzlies decided to respond from a disappointing season with their best effort yet. OU tied a single-season Div. I school record with 12 wins (12-7-3), accomplishing that feat three other times (1998, 2000, ’03), and went undefeated in league play for the first time since becoming league eligible (OU went 6-0 in 1998, a season before becoming a full-time member), 5-0-1, claiming their sixth league championship.
OU fought through the league championship, claiming just their second league tournament crown, with wins over UMKC, 2-1, and tournament host IUPUI, 2-0, in Indianapolis, Ind. Senior Michael Reyes netted both goals for the Golden Grizzlies off the bench in the title game, earning tournament most valuable player honors. Senior Adam Brent, and juniors Ian Daniel and Piotr Nowak joined Reyes on the all-tournament team.
“This year’s team made a point to concentrate solely on the league season and tournament,” said 26th-year head coach Gary Parsons. “I am very proud of the guys for working very hard to achieve these results.”
The Grizzlies earned the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after claiming the league tournament title. OU was sent to East Lansing, Mich., to face Michigan State in a rematch of the regular season contest on Oct. 17, which the 19th-ranked Spartans edged the Grizzlies, 2-1.
With the stakes much higher this time, Oakland raced out to a 2-0 lead on the Spartans, and held off a late rally to return the favor, defeating MSU 2-1. The win was the first for any Summit League team in NCAA postseason.
“We had been very close twice to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament and to accomplish this feat against an in-state rival made the result very satisfying,” said Parsons.
The Golden Grizzlies traveled to Notre Dame, Ind., to face the 10th-seeded Fighting Irish on Nov. 28 in the second round of the NCAA tournament. OU gave the heavily favored Irish all they could handle, falling behind 2-0, before senior Endre Osnes scored in the 66th minute. Osnes then struck the post later in the half in an effort to tie the game, but it was not to be as Notre Dame advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 2-1 victory.
“Ten minutes into the second half I thought it was going to be a very long night,” said Parsons. “But the guys responded well to going down 2-0 and pressured Notre Dame for the last 30 minutes. I thought we were a bit unlucky having our second goal called back, but Notre Dame is an excellent team and proved it in their next two rounds to be a very worthy playoff team.”
The Grizzlies won six of their last nine contests, posting a record of 6-2-1 during that stretch. The two losses were to nationally ranked teams in No. 16 Akron, 2-1, and Notre Dame.
For their efforts in the regular season, the Golden Grizzlies had six players garner all-league honors, including Parsons earning Coach of the Year honors for the second time in his career (2005). Daniel was tabbed Defensive Player of the Year, while junior Martin Sandell earned Newcomer of the Year honors.
“I want to commend our entire team for our success this season,” said Parsons. “This is not a team with a few stars, but a team of blue collar workers who are good soccer players and played as a team.”
Daniel, a native of Troy, Mich., solidified the OU defense that only allowed one goal in conference action. He was a key part of a league-leading eight shutouts, including five in league action.
Sandell, a native of Oslo, Norway, made an immediate impact on both his team and the league, notching four goals, two game-winners, five assists and 13 points, which finished in the top 10 in The Summit League.
Clark led the conference in shutouts with five and posted a 1.03 goals against average en route to garnering first team honors. A native of Mason, Mich., Clark led the league in conference games only with an 0.17 goals against average and three shutouts.
Nowak, a native of Shelby Township, Mich., led the Grizzlies with nine assists and 15 points and was named to the first team. He finished first in the league in assists and posted two goals and four assists in conference games only.
Givens and Harris were both named to the second team.
Givens, a native of Troy, Mich., finished the season with 10 points (4 goals, 2 assists). Harris, a native of Lake Orion, Mich., led OU with six goals and tallied 14 points, second most on the Grizzly squad.
Clark, Daniel, Nowak and Sandell were all named to the Midwest All-Region third team, selected by the National Soccer Coaches Athletic Association.
The future continues to be bright for the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland was selected as one of the team’s to watch in 2008 by CollegeSoccerNews.com and should be a front-runner to repeat as champions, returning 12 letterwinners that saw action on a regular basis.
“We have most of our team back for next year and we have added many solid recruits to the team, so you would think that next season would be a strong one,” said Parsons. “However, we need to understand the fine line between success and lack of success in Division I men’s soccer.
“We need to work very hard if we hope to accomplish our goals again next year and if we don’t we will be on the outside looking in at the end of next season.”
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