SSC Champion Lopes open play Saturday against UC-Santa Barbara in San Luis Obispo
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
A historic season continues.
After wrapping up the Southwest Soccer Conference title in the league’s first year of existence, the Grand Canyon University Men’s Soccer team have secured a berth in this weekend’s National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) South Regional Men’s Soccer Fall Tournament in San Luis Obispo, California for the second straight year. The Lopes will square off against the University of California-Santa Barbara in their first match of pool play of the 12-team tournament Saturday morning.
The Lopes have had nearly two weeks off to prepare for the trip to the west coast – thanks to their success during the regular season. In fact, both of the Lopes’ two entries in the SSC this season – GCU Purple and GCU White – had golden opportunities to be playoff-bound until some key losses down the stretch eliminated GCU White from postseason contention. GCU Purple stayed undeterred throughout the season, surviving a 2-2 tie with archrival (and fellow NIRSA Tournament participant) Arizona State University in the second game of the season to go undefeated through the first month of the year. Their first loss of 2019 – a 3-0 loss in the quarterfinals of the non-conference Aztec Cup – didn’t harm them in the standings. GCU Purple stayed in first place from start to finish, not suffering a loss in conference play until the regular season finale Oct. 12 at the University of New Mexico. By that time, the Lopes had already wrapped up the inaugural regular season title, which not only gave them the No. 1 seed coming out of the regular season, but clinched an automatic bid to NIRSA and helped them avoid having to go to SSC Regionals (won by ASU). The Lopes head to SLO with an overall mark of 7-2-4, and a record in SSC play of 6-1-2.
The Lopes also head to the Central Coast anxiously seeking their first win at NIRSA – one they truly thought they would’ve captured last year at this time. However, in their first trip to regionals a year ago, the Lopes were dealt a very tough pool play bracket, and went 0-3 in their pool – despite bowing to the University of Southern California (who is back in the tournament this year) and Stanford University by tight 2-1 scores.
The Lopes and the Gauchos face off at 8 am Saturday to open up pool play. The Lopes will then battle another SSC foe, the University of Arizona, at 4 pm Saturday afternoon before finishing off pool play against the University of California-Davis Sunday morning at 8 am. Elimination-round play commences Sunday afternoon. If the Lopes can finish among the top two in the tournament, they’ll head to Round Rock, Texas for the NIRSA National Soccer Championships Nov. 21-23.