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Men’s soccer enjoys ‘landmark’ 2021

By Wes Mayberry,

Though it didn't include an NCAA Tournament berth, the Ohio Northern men's soccer team's 2021 season was still one to remember.

"It was a landmark season in terms of how challenging we knew it was going to be," third-year head coach Chris Matejka said. "We played one of the toughest schedules in the country, so we knew from the early stages that we were going to be challenged and pushed weekly, and we exceeded expectations."

The Polar Bears ended the season with an overall record of 11-7-3, but that mark doesn't tell the whole story of just how competitive they were against a difficult schedule that included six games against teams ranked in the final United Soccer Coaches Top 25 poll. In a season defined by close games, none of their seven losses came by more than two goals, and five of their games went beyond regulation time.

"Challenging ourselves weekly keeps us playing at a high level," Matejka said. "Playing a difficult schedule while having to go through some adversity with injury setbacks, I was proud to see that we were fighting in every single game."

John Carroll, which ended the season ranked No. 16, needed overtime to defeat ONU 2-1, and the Polar Bears proved to be a tough out in a pair of road games against Otterbein, which closed the year ranked No. 24. ONU played the Cardinals to a 2-2 draw in the regular season before falling 1-0 in the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals.

Northern secured an impressive 10 shutouts on the season and outscored its opponents 41-20 overall. The season was highlighted by an early stretch in which the Polar Bears went 5-2-1 from Sept. 10-29, outscoring their opponents 19-8.

ONU also put together a strong close to the regular season, going 3-0-1 in its final four games with shutouts of Heidelberg, Capital and Mount Union and the draw with then-No. 8 Otterbein. Add in the 4-0 victory over Marietta in the OAC Tournament quarterfinals, and the Polar Bears had a five-game unbeaten streak that included four shutouts.

The 2021 season also saw the induction of former player Matt Ellis ('98-'01) into the ONU Athletics Hall of Fame.

This year's roster featured 14 seniors, many of whom keyed the team's success and were recognized for their efforts.

"The seniors have had to overcome a lot over the course of their four years, and I'm very proud of the way that they've matured into young men with how they've been responsible for every result and everything that happens off the field in their work as a student-athlete here," Matejka said. "As a group, they've set a high mark on what it means to be a senior. They were able to lead both on and off the field and also stepped up when we needed them to."

Headlined by the conference's Goalkeeper of the Year in senior John Lombardo (Solon) and Midfielder of the Year in senior Levi King (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central), ONU had a bevy of All-OAC selections in 2021.

Seniors Seth Gundlach (Wilmington), Bryan Kern (Rocky River) and Caiman Moore (Linden, Mich.) were All-OAC Second Team honorees, and seniors Cameron Picard (Dayton/Wayne) and Matt Studenic (Wadsworth) were named to the Third Team.

King, Lombardo and Moore went on to earn United Soccer Coaches All-Region 7 honors, with the former being named to the Second Team and the latter two being Third Team selections.

King, a four-time All-OAC selection, tallied 20 points via six goals and eight assists this season. He led the Polar Bears in points and assists and ranked third on the team in goals en route to being named to the Ohio Collegiate Soccer Association's All-Ohio First Team and Academic All-Ohio First Team.

King has 85 points in his career with 32 goals and 21 assists in 74 games played. His point total ranks eighth all-time at ONU, and the three-time All-Ohio selection sits just outside the program's top 10 in career goals and assists.

"Levi always has a smile on his face, but I think what makes him shine is his ability to lead by example. In the classroom, in the weight room and on the field, he just gets it done," Matejka said. "Everyone wants to be on the field with him. There's no secret why he's the Midfielder of the Year — he's creative, he takes chances and is a constant threat. He raises the level every game."

Lombardo, the two-time reigning OAC Goalkeeper of the Year, finished 2021 with 65 saves, a .765 save percentage and 0.97 GAA while tallying nine shutouts. He led the OAC in shutouts, ranked third in GAA and earned All-OAC Tournament recognition and an OAC Player of the Week honor this season. He was also named to the All-Ohio Second Team and Academic All-Ohio First Team.

Lombardo's nine shutouts tie his total from 2019, which is the eighth-best single-season mark in school history. His 25 career shutouts and 208 career saves rank third and eighth, respectively, in program history, and he boasts a career record of 36-21-7.

"John is very vocal and very present every single day and puts in a lot of hard work throughout the year," Matejka said. "He is a natural leader who hates to lose, and he brings tenacity every single day. He will certainly be missed. We have some capable goalkeepers behind him who will remember his legacy and hopefully extend it even further."

Moore, a three-year starter on the Polar Bears' defense, earned his second straight All-OAC Second Team honor this season after helping ONU limit opponents to just 12.8 shots and 0.95 goals per game. He was also a Second Team selection for All-Ohio and Academic All-Ohio and earned the second Academic All-OAC honor of his career.

"Caiman has been a rock for us at the center back position," Matejka said.

Gundlach, a three-year starter at forward and three-time All-OAC honoree, was also instrumental in the Polar Bears' success this season, as he tied for the team lead in goals (8) and was second in points (19). He found a groove late in the season, scoring five goals in four games spanning Oct. 23 to Nov. 2 in helping ONU go 3-0-1 in those matches, and was also an All-OAC Tournament Team selection. He was named to the All-Ohio Third Team and Academic All-Ohio Second Team and earned the third Academic All-OAC honor of his career. Gundlach has 43 points in his ONU career courtesy of 18 goals and seven assists in 54 games played.

Kern posted nine points on three goals and three assists in 2021, giving him 27 points in his career courtesy of 10 goals and seven assists in 60 games played, including 35 starts.

Picard, a two-year starter for the ONU defense, tallied six points this season on two goals and two assists and earned his third career Academic All-OAC selection . His goal in a 3-1 win at Westminster (Pa.) on Sept. 17 marked the first of his career.

Studenic, a three-year starter in the midfield, notched three assists and was an Academic All-Ohio Second Team selection this year, which also saw him earn the third Academic All-OAC accolade of his career. He has 12 points on three goals and six assists in 71 career matches.

Seniors Joe Bement (Olmsted Township/Olmsted Falls) and Jacob Westerkamp (Beavercreek), junior Jeff Firestone (Brecksville/Broadview Heights) and sophomores Ryan Augustine (Gibsonia, Pa./North Catholic) and Cade Winchester (Knoxville, Tenn./Alcoa) also earned accolades this year as Academic All-OAC selections.

Among underclassmen, freshman forward Trevor Tabb (Toledo/Springfield) shined brightest for ONU in 2021, tying Gundlach for the team lead in goals with eight and ranking third on the team with 16 points. He scored one goal in eight of the team's first 13 games, including three of its first four.

"Trevor turned some heads from an early stage and had a good freshman season," Matejka said.

Freshman defender Tanner Locke (Canton, Mich./Salem) also made an impact, ranking second on the team with five assists. He assisted on both goals in a 2-0 win over Huntington (Ind.) on Sept. 11 and recorded two assists in a 4-0 victory at Muskingum on Oct. 9. His lone goal of the season came in a 3-2 overtime win at Carnegie Mellon (Pa.) on Sept. 18.

"Tanner had to deal with a midseason injury but played a lot of minutes for us and performed well and was a highly impactful player," Matejka said.

Sophomore Ben Sundermann (Miamisburg) and freshmen Sam McKee (Mason), Ryan Sommerfeld (Dublin/Coffman), Brenden Gervers (Grand Blanc, Mich.), Ashton Ochsner (Floyds Knobs, Ind./Floyd Central), Nolan Schirmer (Amelia/West Clermont) and Nate Gottron (Centerville) also saw significant playing time in 2021, giving the Polar Bears a strong foundation going into an exciting 2022 season that includes a summer trip abroad to Germany, Czech Republic and Austria.

"We're always looking to challenge ourselves, and we're going to play a really tough schedule again next season," Matejka said. "We need a lot of guys to step up and fill the shoes of the seniors that are leaving. A large senior class is always difficult to replace, but I'm really confident in the guys we have returning. I'm also looking for another young class to come in and push us even further. I'm really excited for next season."