By Ben Neilson
Former champions are champions once again.
The BYU men”s soccer team reclaimed the Collegiate Club National Championship Saturday night, capping the tournament with a 4-0 shutout of finalist-challenger Illinois.
“What was ours is now ours again,” said BYU assistant coach Brian Jolley.
The annual event, held this year at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, featured a heated semifinal rematch between BYU and defending champ Penn State. The Cougars had collected four consecutive championships from 1996 to 1999 when they lost a 3-2 overtime heartbreaker to Penn State in last year”s semifinal.
Penn State proved to be no match for this year”s Cougars. BYU dominated, winning 4-1.
Morris said he liked BYU”s underdog role.
“It was nice to not have the target on our backs this year,” Morris said. “They”re the ones who won last year and had the target on their backs this time and we were the ones who had to come out and prove something.”
Jolley said he was proud of his players” efforts in the Penn State contest.
“That was probably our best-played game this year,” Jolley said.
After dismissing defending champ Penn State in the semifinal earlier in the day, the Cougars moved on to a new challenger Saturday evening: Illinois.
Illinois was overwhelmed by BYU in the final as the Cougars recorded their eighth shutout this year. The win was sealed in the waning moments by a goal from sophomore forward Matt Affleck, BYU”s leading scorer this year with 14 goals.
“It was the perfect way to end the season,” said junior defender Casey Waldron.
Morris, who allowed just two goals during the six-game event and even recorded an assist in the quarterfinal, was named Tournament MVP. Waldron and senior forward Brandon LeRoy both received All-Tournament team honors.
“It feels great to have the championship title back at BYU,” Waldron said. “The whole team deserves All-Tournament.”
LeRoy, who along with Morris was missing from last year”s tournament, also deflected attention from himself.
“It”s unique because everybody steps up and there is a lot of character on this team,” LeRoy said. “That”s the reason I came back this year – I love to play, but I love the guys more.”
Affleck echoed his teammates.
“I”ve said it before, but this team is more fun than any team I”ve ever played on,” Affleck said. “We had our eye on the championship all year and we finally got there.”
BYU head coach Chris Watkins, absent from the tournament because of a commitment to the BYU women”s soccer team, was pleased to hear of the Cougars” success.
“We worked so hard,” Watkins said. “We prepared in every facet. We did everything we could to be ready for this.”
“It also helps that we have players that are phenomenal,” Watkins said.
And BYU was phenomenal this year.
During the regular season, the Cougars” powerful offense blasted 49 goals past opposing goalkeepers while stingy defense gave up just nine. That”s five and a half goals scored to every goal scored against.
Things were no different at the championship tournament, where practice made perfect.
Even playing against higher caliber competition, the Cougars still towered over their opponents, maintaining the same regular-season ratio of five goals to every goal against.
Battling the likes of Cornell, North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi State, Penn State and Illinois, the Cougars netted 26 goals in six games, conceding only five.
BYU doesn”t foresee any drop-off in the future.
“We”ll be just as good next year, if not better,” Jolley said.