PROVIDENCE, RI – After a 1-0 double-overtime win over Saint Joseph's College of Maine in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship game, the Johnson & Wales men's soccer team earned its ninth title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats square off against Middlebury College Saturday at 3 p.m. on the RPI turf.
The Wildcats and Panthers will cross paths for the first time in program history. The winner will take on the RPI-Eastern Nazarene victor on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Johnson & Wales comes into the contest with an impressive 17-2-2 record, with their last loss dating back to September 14 against Roger Williams. The Wildcats are on a 17-game unbeaten streak. JWU's run earned head coach David Kulik his second GNAC Coach of the Year award.
The Panthers (8-3-7) fell to Tufts, 2-1, in the NESCAC championship game, but that was enough to secure an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. Middlebury has been stanch on defense, limiting opponents to the 0.56 goals per game.
Johnson & Wales is playing in the tournament for the eighth time, the fourth under Kulik, but is seeking its first win. The Wildcats have come close several times as six of the seven losses have been by one goal. JWU's last appearance was a 1-0 loss at Lycoming on November 14, 2015.
The Wildcats took charge of the GNAC in 2019, going unbeaten in conference play with an 11-0-1 record. Johnson & Wales has been a defensive powerhouse, allowing only 0.65 gpg, and a mere five goals in conference play. Led by senior defensemen and GNAC Tournament MVP Jehon Balidemaj as well as All-GNAC First-Team selection Riley McNicholas, the Wildcats have stood tall in front of goalkeeper Austin Scoggin.
While the defense gets most of the headlines, the Wildcats have been a more than capable offense. Sophomore Nick Gutekunst heads up the offensive attack, tallying 13 goals and eight assists to earn him a spot on the All-GNAC First-Team. Right behind Gutekunst was JP Rioux, who comes into the NCAA Tournament with 33 total points.
Along with Gutekunst, Rioux, and McNicholas, several other Wildcats received post-season accolades. Sophomore Kevin Reilly and junior Joulien Martinelli were named to Second Team All-GNAC and Scoggin was elected Third-Team All-GNAC.