West Virginia’s Men’s Soccer team’s best season in four decades came to an end today at Shaw Field.
No. 3-seeded Georgetown hosted the quarterfinal match of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and head coach Dan Stratford’s Mountaineer team was met by many of the same players who had won the National Championship in 2019.
This Hoya team came out aggressively, but even still, the Mountaineers found a way to get behind the wall of 6’2 keeper Giannis Nikopolidis. In the 16th minute, off a beautiful free kick, WVU’s senior striker Yoran Popovic netted the first of the match, while both fellow senior striker Ike Swiger and junior midfielder Luke McCormick got assists.
That one shot was not indicative of Nikopolidis’ play, and West Virginia was about to watch the two-time Big East Goalkeeper of the Year at work.
The Mountaineers entered halftime up one, but relaxation was not in the plan. Stratford’s team continued to lay on a vice grip press and the action spanned every corner of the field. West Virginia’s press was met by a fierce Hoya team that was willing to put their bodies on the line. The game got physical quickly and that physicality backfired when it moved inside the box. Georgetown hadn’t had a shot on goal until the 60th minute, but that luck was about to change.
WVU’s senior defender Aaron Denk Gracia had been on a roll of uncalled, potential fouls dangerously close to where fifth year keeper Steven Tekesky stood waiting. Both 18-yard boxes had staged scrums throughout the first half, but Denk Gracia had his physicality called into question, in a huge way, in the 67th minute.
One of his slide tackles was declared dangerous, and it set up Tekesky to defend a mid-game penalty kick, one of the only occasions in the Mountaineers’ season. Midfielder Dante Polvara went to the spot and nailed a ball right under Tekesky’s outstretched left arm to tie the game at an uneasy 1-1. It became a disappointing act of foreshadowing for the eventual conclusion of WVU’s season.
The rest of regulation saw the ball ping-pong around Shaw Field, but Tekesky and Nikopolidis stood firm; Tekesky finished regulation with a single save, while the Mountaineers hoped they’d beaten down Nikopolidis with five saves.
When the two teams went to the first overtime period, Tekesky notched a second save, but the Mountaineers and Hoyas spent most of the time trying desperately to maintain possession for more than 30 seconds. The scoreboard ticked toward 100 minutes quickly and sent the two into a second overtime. This marked only the second double overtime that this 2021 Hoya team had been forced to play for.
Stratford’s team held firm in the triple digits, only allowing two shots, including a third Tekesky save. When the game clock hit 110 minutes, the Mountaineers were in an all-too-familiar scenario: a penalty kick shootout with advancement toward the 2021 College Cup on the line.
Tekesky, in his last heroics as a Mountaineer, took his place on the line, just as Nikopolidis would.
Georgetown Stefan Stojanovic opened the shootout with a point blank shot at Tekesky, which put the Hoyas only three shots away from advancing.
West Virginia’s Ryan Crooks, who had tallied one of the PKs to win against Virginia Tech, kicked his shot right at Nikopolidis and the keeper made his respective save.
That put Hoya Zach Riviere on the dot; his shot sailed by Tekesky and into the goal to put Georgetown in a definitive penalty lead.
Popovic was sent out to get the Mountaineers on the board, and his shot managed to find the bottom left space behind Nikopolidis.
Now up 2-1, Georgetown’s Aidan Rocha added a third make.
Fairmont native Ike Swiger joined the PK action next, but Nikopolidis got a hand on it.
Effectively sealing the victory, Georgetown sent freshman Joe Buck to kick the team’s fourth, and final, penalty, and Tekesky was no match for the boot.
Just like that, a historic run for Dan Stratford’s WVU Men’s Soccer team came to an end. Tekesky, who ties assistant coach Nick Noble for program wins, center back Kevin Morris, who saw action in every single WVU game (92) across five seasons, and midfielder Pau Jimenez Albelda, whose penalty kick sent WVU to the Sweet 16, all suited up in Mountaineer kits for their final times, and West Virginia finished 12-3-6, the best since the 2017 season.