The Freemen are ranked #1 in the NCCAA Div. II
The Providence College Athletics program is enjoying great success as it sends two of its programs to the National Christian Colleges Athletics Association (NCCAA) Division II National Championships in Kissimmee, Florida this week.
Both the men’s soccer and women’s volleyball teams qualified for the tournament last weekend with wins in their respective regional tournaments.
The Freemen teams compete in the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference (MCAC), and are the only Canadian school in the NCCAA Division II body. For Providence, a privately run Christian liberal arts school with approximately 340 students, having two teams qualify for such a highly touted tournament is a great step for the direction of their athletics programs.
However, though the athletics department continues to grow cohesively all-around, both the soccer and volleyball squads followed much different paths on their way to their national berths.
The men’s soccer program came into the season with the goal of building off of their surprise run last season that saw them finish as runner-ups at last year’s NCCAA tournament. The Freemen came into the season with a strong core of veterans and possibly their best recruiting class in the program’s history. This combination helped the team put together a season that saw them finish with an impressive 12-1 overall record and an astounding 80-9 goals for/against total. The Freemen’s record, which included an upset road victory against the defending NCCAA champions, has led them to earn the #1 seed (out of eight) in the upcoming national championships, and sets them in a strong position in their quest to become the first Canadian team to ever win the tournament.
Freemen head coach Martin Ward was pleasantly surprised with his team’s abilities from day one, and hopes to see the success continue as his squad fights for a national title.
“I have never had a freshman group who have adapted to our level of soccer so quickly,” said Ward. “Our returning players have also all developed into stronger players, and I feel we have grown into a well-balanced team with depth. (The #1 seeding) doesn’t necessarily mean we are the strongest team in the tournament, but we are looking forward to a challenging, high-level of competition.”
The Lady Freemen will be a force in the MCAC this year
Meanwhile, a young Lady Freemen volleyball program experienced a much different path en-route to earning the #7 seed (out of ten) to their tournament. On a team where 8 of 10 players are freshman, rookie head coach Becky Heidebrecht knew that her team was in for a rough learning curve, albeit with great potential. After starting the season with a disappointing 2-3 record, the Lady Freemen began to gel as a unit and finished a strong 13-6 overall. Their greatest feat came at their regional tournament as they upset the #1 seed twice, and only lost two sets in three games on their way to the regional title and a national tournament berth.
“I felt we had the potential to be a great team from day one,” said Heidebrecht. “I knew that we would have to work for it, and I think our determination allowed us to have it all come together at regionals. However, it’s also great to see that playing against Christian schools allows us to pray with other teams, and reminds us that it’s more than just about volleyball.”
The two Freemen squads boast a combined 25 Manitoban athletes, and there is a hope that the home-grown talent will help lead them to a successful tournament as they continue to serve God through their actions on and off the field.
By Kaiten Critchlow