Clinching – Croup’s Corner

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

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The fall semester got off to a rough start for the volleyball and soccer teams.

It was rough.

When you exit the Fort Pitt Tunnel and look right into Station Square, you see Highmark Stadium, the home of the Point Park soccer teams. When you drove through the tunnel in September with Point Park sports on your mind, you really questioned if there was a light at the end.

Slowly but surely that light turned on. Now, it’s vibrant and almost blinding. The volleyball team blinded us the most.

VOLLEYBALL

The team started last year 0-9 before resurrecting its season in conference play. Point Park finished 9-3, was the runner-up in the conference tournament and earned a bid to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Tournament.

The Pioneers retained much of the core roster that carried them to last year’s national tournament.

This year saw a familiar beginning, but now it’s time to rewrite the ending.

After winning its first match of the season, Point Park lost its next 10 contests en route to a 1-10 start.

Since then, Point Park is 18-3 and 15-1 in River States Conference (RSC) play.

Excluding the 3-2 loss against Rio Grande, Point Park has completely dominated RSC competition this season. In their 15 conference wins, the Pioneers only dropped seven total sets and never dropped more than one set in a match.

That’s a 45-7 combined score in Point Park’s victories. Point Park turned around its season for the second year in a row, but this time did it in incredible fashion. The Pioneers snuck into last year’s national tournament, but glide into the big dance this year.

The team’s RSC-best regular season record guarantees a return trip to nationals. It’s all part of rewriting last year’s ending. Unlike last year, the Pioneers won’t have to fight for their spot in the RSC Tournament.

It’s already theirs.

Whoever they draw for that NAIA Opening Round match on Nov. 19 is going to be a top-tier program in the country. We already know that without watching the selection show. The best ending to this story will come if the Pioneers can win that game.

Getting to the big dance is one thing. Point Park has accomplished the feat now four times in the last six years, but doesn’t have a win in the tournament to show for it. This could be the year that all changes.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

Now the women’s soccer team had a rough start to 2016 as well, beginning the year 0-5-1 and dropping its first three home contests. The Pioneers battled through injuries and a tough non-conference road schedule to do exactly what the volleyball team did: turn their season around.

Point Park finished the regular season on a four game winning streak and is 6-2 in RSC competition, good for second place in the conference.

Its 2-1 victory on senior day Saturday over Carlow clinched that second seed in the RSC tournament and an automatic first round bye in the tournament.

The Pioneers will get at least the RSC semifinal game at Highmark Stadium, the same turf where they won the conference championship last season. Point Park has a great chance to repeat this season.

The Pioneers defense has shined as of late, allowing just three combined shots last week in matches against Washington Adventist and Carlow. They have six shutout victories this year. Point Park’s offense has outscored RSC opponents 17-7 this season.

They’ve healed up and found ways to integrate their young talent with the veterans on the roster and look like a team has a great chance to repeat as conference champions.

MEN’S SOCCER

The defending men’s soccer conference champions just happen to also be the defending national champions. The runner-up last season in the RSC also happens to be just as good.

Rio Grande defeated West Virginia Tech in the RSC Championship last season before the RedStorm went on to win the NAIA National Championship. The Golden Bears of West Virginia are hungry for redemption this year and, like Rio Grande, have rolled over almost every team that has tried to get in their way, including Point Park.

The Pioneers finished the season 9-8-1 with a 3-5 RSC record. Their senior day Saturday was a do-or-die situation against Carlow University, competing in its first year of RSC competition.

The Celtics entered the game 1-6 in RSC play as the last place team in the RSC. It was a must win and an almost guaranteed win for Point Park. Taking care of business at Highmark Stadium was the easy part.

The Pioneers needed the stars to align to secure a playoff berth, but the biggest star they needed was a West Virginia Tech victory over Cincinnati Christian.

Well, unsurprisingly, the Golden Bears rolled over Cincinnati Christian 9-2 and gave the Eagles a 3-5 RSC record. Three other teams, including Point Park, also finished with 3-5 records.

After all the tiebreakers were sorted out, Point Park walked away with that sixth-and-final playoff spot. The Pioneers will travel to Midway (Ky.) Nov. 5 for a rematch of their regular season 1-0 overtime loss in the opening round of the tournament.

If Point Park wins that game, it would have to travel to West Virginia Tech for the RSC Semifinal match.

So, there you have it. The regular season of conference play for these three fall teams is over. It took a while for that light to appear at the end of the tunnel, but it finally turned on. We just had to be patient.

Let’s go win some hardware, shall we?

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