The Ashland University men's soccer team saw its GLIAC Tournament title defense come to an end on Monday (Nov. 11) evening as Davenport came away with a 2-1 decision in the first round of the tournament in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The result means a new champion will be crowned as the Eagles were not able to repeat their 2018 magic when they came from the No. 6 seed to win the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The Eagles (6-11-1), who were also the No. 6 seed in this year's tournament, took an early lead against the No. 3 seed Panthers (10-7-1), whom they had beaten in both regular season meetings. Their last meeting was only four days prior, on Thursday, as the Eagles won the matchup, 4-2, at Ferguson Field.
The opening goal came in the seventh minute from a decent spell of possession as senior John Duldner lifted a long ball into the box that targeted junior Justin Libertowski. The forward settled the ball on the frozen turf and fired from 20 yards to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead. It was Libertowski's fifth of the season and Duldner's sixth assist. Both finished with the team lead in those respective categories.
Ashland conceded the equalizer in the 18th minute as Brock Schultz got on the end of a diagonal cross by Daire O'Riordan and headed it inside the back post.
The Panthers scored what became the game-winner in the 33rd minute as a cross to the right side of the box was brought down by Schultz, who played a short pass to O'Riordan running into the area before striking a shot into the upper left 90.
"We started as we needed, but it's been the story of our year, individual mistakes have cost us," said AU head coach Oliver Slawson. "We made two the first half and they punished us."
Davenport led in shots, 8-4, in the first half, but the Eagles looked destined to equalize in the second half as they controlled much of the play in the Davenport half.
That destiny materialized for a moment in the 86th minute on a free kick as junior Yusuke Yasumasu's drive into the box was flicked on for sophomore defender Joseph Renner, who headed it into the net; however, the goal was disallowed for offside as Renner had encroached past the last defender on the flick.
"We were great in the second half, did everything we needed to score but couldn't get the one we needed," Slawson said. "We have to be better in taking the chances we create."
The Eagles made a final last scramble in the box as the final seconds ticked away, but they could not get a solid foot on the ball.
"I'm sad for the seniors, they've built a rock-solid foundation for this program," Slawson said. "They've started at zero, with very little to work with. Today's an example, we're against a program who have won a national championship, a team we've beat twice already this year, and our guys have competed to the end.
"Our seniors have been outstanding. Outstanding players, students and leaders of what Ashland soccer will be about. I owe each of them so much, I'm just sorry we couldn't get more games together. They went from nothing to winning a conference tournament and playing in the NCAA tournament, all in the space of three-and-a-half years."
The senior group won 27 games over their four seasons and immediately made the program competitive in the GLIAC after the program was put on hold for three years.
This season, the Eagles achieved their highest points total in the GLIAC regular season since their return in 2016, notching 19 points with six wins and a draw in league play.