Men’s soccer falls in NCAA Tournament with biting 3-0 loss

Demon Deacons end season in the first round of the big dance with defeat versus Ohio State


Katie Romhilt

Roald Mitchell lines up a shot.

Matthew Kulynych, Staff Writer

The Wake Forest men’s soccer team bowed out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 3-0 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. The loss puts an end to a season that looked promising at the beginning but ultimately was derailed later on. The Demon Deacons ended the season with a record of 14-6-0, with all six losses coming in October and November.
The last time the Demon Deacons met the Buckeyes was the 2007 National Championship, which Wake Forest ultimately won 2-1 for the first national championship in school history. The Demon Deacons were looking to replicate that performance ahead of this year’s matchup. Before kickoff, the two teams held a moment of silence to pay respects to the University of Virginia and the tragic shooting that occurred there just four days prior. After this moment of respect, the teams’ attention turned toward the match.

The match could not have gotten off to a worse start for the Demon Deacons. Ohio State won a free kick 30 seconds into the game near midfield, which led to sophomore goalkeeper Trace Alphin saving the ball on a looping header. The defense cleared the ensuing corner, but it fell to the feet of a Buckeye attacker near the edge of the box. His low shot ricocheted off of the post in the bottom left corner and found the back of the net, giving Ohio State the lead less than 70 seconds into the match.

Wake Forest did not respond very well to falling behind early. Much like in last week’s loss to Clemson, Ohio State prevented the Demon Deacons from playing through the midfield. The press forced the Demon Deacons into sloppy turnovers and errant touches, and the usually game-changing senior midfielder Omar Hernandez and efficient sophomore forward Roald Mitchell were isolated through the early parts of the match.
The Buckeyes doubled their lead in the 16th minute. Ohio State’s heavy press forced the normally calm and reliable junior captain Garrison Tubbs into a sloppy touch, which Ohio State ultimately pounced upon. Tubbs then tripped up the attacker just outside the corner of the box and earned himself a yellow card. After the Video Assistant Referee checked to see if a penalty should have been awarded instead of a free kick, the referee ultimately confirmed his decision of a free kick. It was a slight relief for the Demon Deacons, but they still had a dangerous set piece to defend. In what seemed like déjà vu, the defense cleared the initial ball in from the free kick. However, the ball once again fell to an Ohio State player at the edge of the box, and he hit a beautiful first-time volley into the top right corner to stun the crowd at Spry Stadium.
For the second week in a row, the Demon Deacons had been held without a shot for the first 30-or-so minutes of the match, and it seemed like Wake Forest could go without a shot in the entire first half once again until Roald Mitchell finally got a chance with 10 minutes remaining. Senior midfielder David Wrona, who had provided a nice spark off the bench thus far for the Demon Deacons, left a pass from freshman midfielder Cooper Flax for Mitchell with a nice dummy. Mitchell made a nice turn around one defender, but a sliding Buckeye defender blocked his shot almost immediately after it left his foot.
Wake Forest would get one more shot off of a corner before the halftime whistle, but they had ultimately been dominated in the first half for the second game in a row. Once again, the Demon Deacons struggled to play around Ohio State’s disciplined press and defensive shape, which forced the typically composed Demon Deacons into countless errors. Ohio State outshot Wake Forest 9-2 in the first half, and the Buckeyes had one foot into the next round.
The start of the second half was the polar opposite from the start of the first, with Wake Forest almost immediately pulling a goal back. The two star sophomore forwards, Roald Mitchell and Baba Niang, pressed the Ohio State backline into a turnover just one minute into the match. Mitchell dribbled in and aimed a shot at the far right corner from the left side of the box, but the Ohio State keeper got down well to save it. Cooper Flax’s corner was headed up into the air by an Ohio State defender, and it fell to sophomore midfielder Ryan Fessler. He lasered a half volley as it bounced off the grass, but it narrowly missed the top left corner from about 8 yards out. Despite not scoring, Wake Forest finally showed the energy they had been needing for the past two matches.
However, the optimism this fresh start brought was quickly swept away in the 53rd minute. The Buckeyes won a corner, which they would take from the left side of Trace Alphin’s goal. The ball was whipped into the near post, and Ohio State flicked a header. The ball painstakingly lobbed beyond Alphin and the Demon Deacon defense and into the far corner to give Ohio State a three-goal lead. The goal was a dagger into the hearts of the Wake Forest fans, players, and coaches alike, as it seemed like a comeback was beyond hope at this point.
The Demon Deacons did come close to grabbing a goal back. Junior midfielder Sidney Parris, who had been deputized at left back for the entirety of the 2nd half, whipped in a tantalizing cross in the 58th minute toward Roald Mitchell. A Buckeye defender headed the ball up into the air, and junior winger Chase Oliver rose to challenge it as it fell. His header flung across the edge of the 6-yard box, and Mitchell lunged forward for a shot, but somehow the Ohio State defense converged to save the ball off the line.
With the three-goal advantage, Ohio State would sit off a bit and allow the Demon Deacons to press forward and create a few opportunities as the clock wound down. But with a combination of good goalkeeping and defending, Ohio State was able to see the remainder of the game out for a victory. With this loss, the Demon Deacons’ season came to a screeching halt, and Ohio State would move on to face the 12th-seeded UNC-Greensboro Spartans in the next round.
Not many would have predicted a first-round exit earlier in the season, with the Demon Deacons being ranked as the unanimous No. 1 overall team back in September. However, injuries coupled with strong performances from opponents meant that Wake Forest couldn’t carry their momentum on from the early parts of the season. Still, there is plenty of reason for optimism next season, with a strong recruiting class and formidable set of returning players, including captain Garrison Tubbs and top scorer Roald Mitchell. The Demon Deacons will be back next year looking to build upon the excellence their healthy squad can deliver.