PREVIEW: Three Teams to Host GNAC Championships Saturday

PREVIEW: Three Teams to Host GNAC Championships Saturday

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Three Great Northeast Athletic Conference championships have to go through Providence this Saturday, with the top-seeded men's soccer, women's volleyball and women's soccer teams keeping their eyes on the conference trophy. Coach Dave Kulik and the men's soccer squad will host Saint Joseph's of Maine at 1 p.m. at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Athletics Complex Turf, women's volleyball will look for their fifth straight conference crown when they battle third-seeded Rivier at 3 p.m. in the Wildcat Center while the women's soccer team makes their second trip to the finals in the last three seasons when they host Saint Joseph's of Maine at 5 p.m. at the SMAC Turf. 

The men's soccer team appears in their conference-best 11th championship contest with hopes of taking down the 2018 champion Monks. The Monks three-peated last season with a 1-0 win over JWU while the Wildcats earned a three-peat of their own from 2013-2015 under Kulik. Sophomore Nick Gutekunst, the conference leader in assists, has been strong in the midfield all season for the Wildcats by collecting a team-high 34 points. Gutekunst is tied with JP Rioux for goals after Rioux's two goal performance in the GNAC Semifinals on Wednesday versus University of Saint Joseph.

A strong backline led by senior duo Riley McNicholas and Jehon Balidemaj have kept most teams at bay while junior goalkeeper Austin Scoggin has been a spark for the Wildcats in net leading to a top-25 rank nationally in team shutout percentage and team goals against average. Scoggin collected two huge diving saves in the semifinals to keep the Wildcats in front while making another two key saves to secure the PK victory over Lasell in the quarterfinals. 

Head Coach Nancy Somera's women's volleyball squad is back in familiar territory seeking their fourth straight GNAC Championship on home court. The seniors have gone unblemished in GNAC action heading into the weekend against a strong Raiders team that was able to serve JWU their first two sets lost in conference play since the 2016 season, when Rivier pulled off a set in the 2016 GNAC Championship.

For JWU, Maria Coniglio and Kate Walker are top five in the GNAC in kills per set, Brylee Frank is second in the conference in assists per set and Elyssa Nicolas is top five in total digs. Walker, again, leads the country and the conference with a .434 hitting percentage heading into the championship game. The Wildcats have won nine straight matches and cruised by Lasell and Suffolk en route to the championship match.

Chris Flint and the women's soccer team are seeking their first Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship since 2005, when both the men's and women's programs went to Western New England and traveled home with two trophies. JWU will battle against a Monks squad that earned a victory in overtime a couple weeks ago to give JWU their lone loss of the conference season.

The 17th best scoring offense in the country, JWU is paced by junior Olivia Cairrao, who ranks in the top 20 nationally in both goals-per-game and points-per-game. The Bristol, R.I. native has 18 goals and seven assists for 43 points, all career-highs while topping the conference ranks. With the help of Jordan Restivo, 13 goals, and Cat Nolan, eight goals, the Wildcats currently rank fifth in the nation in total goals. In net, Colleen Lynch is ranked first in the conference in goals against average and second in save percentage heading into the weekend's championship match.

If you can't make it to Saturday's tripleheader, all contests will be broadcasted on the Johnson & Wales Athletics broadcast portal with in-game commentary and live stats. Head over to FALL PLAYOFF CENTRAL for each contest's individual links.