After posting an incredible 19-8 overall record and finishing third at the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament a year ago, the 1999 Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's soccer team faced the task of trying to top one of the most successful seasons in the program's history.
However, the Cougars were undaunted by that challenge and the team did not rest on its laurels from the previous year as MVNC compiled a 17-5-2 overall record in 1999 for the best winning percentage in school history at .750.
The Cougars began the season with a three-match road trip to California. MVNC opened the trip with a 2-1 victory over The Master's (CA) College as junior forward Josh Robson scored both of the team's goals. Then, the team fell 3-2 in overtime at Point Loma Nazarene (CA) University before closing out the trip with a 4-1 victory at Concordia (CA) University.
Upon returning to Ohio, the Cougars won their next five matches which included winning the 1999 Pizza Hut Cougar Invitational with victories over Huntington (IN) College and Trinity Christian (IL) College.
MVNC had its winning streak snapped at six straight as the Cougars fell to eventual American Mideast Conference champion and NAIA Region IX runner-up Tiffin University 4-1. Then, the team rebounded to win three straight matches to improve to 10-2.
MVNC's next match was against the defending conference champions from the University of Rio Grande. After trailing 1-0 for most of the second half, senior defender Ron Hayes scored the only goal of his collegiate career with 58 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime. The two teams battled through two sudden-death overtime periods to a 1-1 draw.
The Cougars lost two of their next four matches and also tied Denison University 1-1 in overtime as the team's record slipped to 11-4-2. However, MVNC closed out conference play and the regular season with three straight victories to improve to 14-4-2. The Cougars also posted their best conference mark in 15 years as the team finished 7-3-1 in AMC play and just missed advancing to the NAIA Region IX Tournament.
After a 16-day layoff, MVNC traveled to Nyack (NY) College for the 1999 NCCAA East Region championship match. Junior midfielder Chris Masone and sophomore midfielder Preston Elifritz each scored a goal as the Cougars downed the Purple Pride 2-1 for their second straight trip to the NCCAA National Tournament.
At the eight-team NCCAA Tournament in Kissimmee, Florida, fifth-seeded MVNC rallied from two-goal deficits in each of its first two matches as the Cougars posted identical 3-2 overtime victories against Christian Heritage (CA) College and Indiana Wesleyan University. In both matches, freshman forward Aaron May scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
With the two victories, MVNC advanced to the championship match of the tournament for the first time in the program's history. Despite a valiant effort, the Cougars fell 4-1 to East Texas Baptist University, the defending national champions. However, MVNC had earned its first-ever second-place finish and a lot of respect for the way that they played at the tournament.
"Short of winning a national championship, this was about as rewarding and enjoyable of a season that you can have," said head coach Paul Furey. "It has really been a pleasure coaching this group. They were really unselfish, teachable, unified, and determined to succeed. The way they came back from a two-goal deficit twice to win at the national tournament speaks volumes to the character that this team possessed."
"As a coach, there is nothing you can wish more than being successful and having enjoyment in the process," Furey added. "From the time that we landed in California to open our season until we played in the NCCAA championship match in Florida, I thought we played extremely well overall. But, we also had a great time being with each other."
Individually, several players had outstanding seasons. Robson led the team with 26 goals and 67 points to go along with 15 assists as he was selected to the AMC First Team, the NCCAA East Region Team, the NAIA Region IX Team, the NCCAA All-American First Team, and the NAIA Honorable Mention All-American Team. He also became the Cougars' career leader in goals (58) and points (144), while setting a school record for scoring at least one goal in 12 straight matches.
Junior midfielder Rick Collins was the team leader in assists as he tied the school record with 17. Collins received AMC Honorable Mention, NCCAA East Region, and NCCAA Honorable Mention All-American honors as he also added eight goals and 33 points.
Senior midfielder Todd Pearce wrapped up his stellar career with nine goals and 12 assists as he upped his school record career assist total to 53. He was an AMC Honorable Mention and an NCCAA East Region selection as well.
Four other seniors wrapped up their careers as defenders Hayes, Tim Lord, Matt Salisbury, and forward Chris Dean all contributed to the team's success in their final season. Hayes was named to the Pizza Hut Cougar Invitational Team, Lord was selected as the Most Valuable Defensive Player at the NCCAA National Tournament, and Salisbury was named to the AMC Second Team, the NAIA Region IX Team, and the NAIA Honorable Mention All-American Team. Dean also added six goals and three assists.
Masone and Elifritz also posted good seasons as the pair scored six and eight goals respectively. Masone also recorded 10 assists, while Elifritz added seven assists.
Several newcomers also had an impact in their first collegiate season as freshmen May, Grant Jaars, and Trevor Knowles all made their mark on the team. May scored nine goals in his first intercollegiate season as he received Honorable Mention in the AMC and was named to the NCCAA All-National Tournament Team, while Jaars, another forward, added three goals and 10 assists. Knowles, a goalkeeper, started every match for the Cougars and posted two shutouts and a 1.60 goals against average.
"I felt that we always played in a fashion that pride to our school, our families, and each other, but our main focus has definitely been our faith," said Furey.
With seven starters returning next season, the future looks bright for MVNC as the Cougars look towards the 2000 season.