Posted 10/25/11

Sophomore Leonardo Mederios was the man of the weekend, blasting a ball to the left of a sprawling Otero keeper to score the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over the 11th-ranked Rattlers. One day earlier, Mederios tucked a ball into the top corner of …

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Trapper men capture Region IX crown

Two years ago, there was nothing. On Saturday in Rock Springs, there was nothing but jubilation as the Northwest College men’s soccer program celebrated a Region IX championship in only its second year of existence.

Sophomore Leonardo Mederios was the man of the weekend, blasting a ball to the left of a sprawling Otero keeper to score the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over the 11th-ranked Rattlers. One day earlier, Mederios tucked a ball into the top corner of the goal with just nine seconds remaining to advance Northwest to the championship game with a 2-1 semifinal victory over No. 13 Laramie County Community College.

“This is amazing,” said Rob Hill, the Trappers’ head coach and the architect for transforming what had been a proposal on paper two years ago into a living, breathing team on the field. “We wanted to create a culture of winning for the program and this is a part of that. It’s just fantastic.”

Playing for the sixth time in two seasons, Otero and Northwest appeared headed for another hard-fought encounter in Saturday’s championship. For much of the first half, Northwest was able to effectively neutralize Otero’s speed up front and limit the Rattlers’ scoring chances.

Offensively, Northwest sent a ball off the post in the early minutes of the game. The team sent a rocket just outside of that same post near the 30 minute mark and moments later had a shot attempt ping off the crossbar as the two sides went to intermission deadlocked in a scoreless battle.

The second half followed a similar script early on as both sides battled for possession of the ball in the midfield. Shot opportunities were rare both ways in the early going as both teams cautiously reacted to the midgame adjustments made by both sides.

Otero finally struck first with 28:30 remaining. Northwest was whistled for a foul in the goal box, setting the Rattlers up with a penalty kick that caught Trapper goalie Cameron Stanek leaning the wrong way.

That score by the defending Region IX champions proved to be a wake up call for Northwest.

The Rattlers’ lead lasted just over three minutes before Mederios played a through ball to Dean Johnson, who fired the ball into the goal from 16 yards out to re-establish parity on the scoreboard.

“I just wanted to score,” said Mederios, the Trappers’ leading goal scorer for the season, amid handshakes and hugs from teammates following the contest.

The Trappers had an opportunity to sink a dagger into the Rattlers three minutes later as Alan Da Costa attempted a penalty kick after Otero was whistled for pulling down a Northwest College player in the goal box. The penalty shot was tipped away by a brilliant diving effort from the Rattlers’ keeper, forcing Hill and the Northwest College fans in attendance to endure through the final nervous minutes.

“Longest 15 minutes of my life,” Hill said afterward. “I kept glancing at the clock and I swear it wasn’t moving.”

The Trappers did have the advantage of playing the final few minutes with a one-man advantage. Following the decision to award the Trappers’ penalty kick, Otero received a red card for being too persistent with its protest of the call.

As the final seconds ticked away, the Trappers bench emptied to midfield while several players on the field simply collapsed to the ground. Eventually, they all found their way to the main celebration, joined by fans and members of the NWC women’s soccer team, who had watched from the stands.

“We talked about this moment,” said Hill. “Ever since we lost to these guys last year in the championship game, we’ve talked about this moment. In pre-season this year, we were focused on getting here.”

While the team’s championship victory provided the highest drama of the weekend, it was far from the only excitement the Trappers produced. Friday’s semifinal victory over Laramie County Community College produced its own thrills.

Legofi Crawford’s header off a Johnson corner kick in the 12th minute put the Trappers ahead early. Northwest nursed that one-goal lead throughout much of the game, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Stanek in goal.

The Trappers’ freshman keeper steered away 16 shots in the contest, including a full layout dive to tip away a free kick opportunity by LCCC.

Mederios was having none of it. Grabbing a loose ball in the 90th minute, the Belo Horizonte, Brazil, native beat two Golden Eagle defenders and the clock to tuck the ball into the top corner of the net with nine seconds left in the game.

“Everybody thought we were heading to overtime,” Hill said. “Then, all of a sudden, he hits it and we won.”

With a sweep of the Region IX tournament, which included a 4-1 home victory against Northeastern last Wednesday in a play-in contest, the Trappers are 15-4-1 for the season. The team will travel to Arizona in two weeks for District tournament play. That tournament will be hosted by the winner of the Region I tournament, which takes place this weekend. The winner of the district tournament advances to a place in the NJCAA national tournament field.

North Idaho, the Region XVIII representative, will also be in attendance at the district event.

“This was part one,” Hill said of his team’s Region IX victory. “Part two is getting to the national tournament. We’ve got two weeks to get ready.”