Kansas City, Mo.—-For the first time in Wingate University history, the Bulldogs are NCAA Division II national champions! Top-ranked Wingate got a pair of goals from All-American Jon Ander (Bilbao, Spain) Saturday afternoon en route to a 2-0 victory over fourth-ranked University of Charleston in the NCAA National title match. Wingate ends its historic season at 19-1 overall, while the Golden Eagles fall to 19-3-2.
This marks the second straight year a North Carolina team has won the D2 men’s national championship. In 2015 Pfeiffer University won the national title.
“I think first and foremost it means a world to the university,” head coach Gary Hamill says. “Our players have dedicated themselves to winning, I see that day in and day out with their attitudes, their behaviors and lifestyle. For all the alums, who have worked so hard and given so much to Wingate, it’s just fantastic, what a great feeling.”
The story throughout the tournament has been the dominant Wingate defense, which did not disappoint on championship Saturday. The Bulldogs, who already blanked the nation’s top-ranked offense in the regional title match two weeks ago, shutout the nation’s second-ranked offense on Saturday, handing the Golden Eagles only their second shutout of the year. Charleston scored 78 goals on the year, averaging 3.39 goals per game before running into the nation’s top defense.
The first 35 minutes was a back-and-forth battle, with the Bulldogs getting a great chance early, taking two shots on goal in the fourth minute. A Nate Evans (Greenville, N.C.) shot from the left side of the box was stopped by Charleston goalkeeper Paulo Pita, while Christian Szalay’s (Vienna, Austria) attempt on the rebound was turned away by the Golden Eagle defense. That led to a corner kick, where a header from All-American defender Alex Nelson (Newcastle, England) went just wide.
The Bulldogs got on the board with nine minutes remaining in the opening half. Freshman Oscar Perez (Alcaaiz, Spain) sent one to Ander just outside the box. The 2015 SAC Player of the Year ripped one through the defense, with the ball getting deflected into the near corner to give Wingate the lead. The Bulldogs took that 1-0 lead into halftime, out-shooting Charleston 5-3 with a 3-1 edge in shots on goal.
Charleston looked to get the equalizer six minutes into the second half, but a header from Felipe Antonio was saved by two-time All-American goalkeeper Pablo Jara (Santiago, Chile). Wingate All-American midfielder Aksel Juul (Newcastle, England) got one-on-one in the box in the 66th minute, beating his defender but was unable to find the back of the net, with Pita there to turn it away. Perez got behind the defense nine minutes later, but his shot from the left side of the box went just wide.
The Bulldogs got their insurance goal in the 78th minute. Ander got the ball just inside midfield, dribbled towards the box, then fired one from 20 yards out, netting his team-best 10th goal of the year and fifth goal of the NCAA Tournament, making it 2-0.
Wingate out-shot Charleston 10-8 on the afternoon, holding a 5-2 advantage in shots on goal. Jara collected two saves to notch his 12th shutout of the year. Pita had two saves for the Golden Eagles.
Charleston entered the championship match averaging over 20 shots per game, but the Wingate defense held the Golden Eagles more than 12 below their season average. The eight shots were a season-low for Charleston.
The Bulldog defense, anchored by Nelson along with fellow All-American Damian Gaona (Santiago, Chile) and All-Region selectionVicente Munoz (Santiago, Chile) did not allow a goal in the final 534 minutes of the season, while leading the nation with an incredible 0.40 goals-against average. Wingate did not allow multiple goals in any game this year, collecting 12 shutouts including the five NCAA Tournaments. Four of those shutouts came against top-15 teams.
The historic championship is the first NCAA team national title in Wingate University history. The Bulldogs were also the first team to make an NCAA Final Four in school. The victory also gives the South Atlantic Conference its first-ever NCAA National Championship in a SAC-sanctioned sport.
Wingate had five players named to the All-Tournament team, led by Ander and Nelson. Ander was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player, while Nelson earned Most Outstanding Defensive Player honors. The two were joined by Szalay, who scored both goals in the National Semifinals and Gaona and Jara, who helped the Bulldogs go through the tournament without allowing a goal. The Bulldogs finished the year allowing a nation’s-low eight goals in 20 matches.
Wingate University will hold a victory celebration Tuesday afternoon in Cuddy Arena, honoring the school’s first-ever NCAA National Championship team. The program will begin at 2 p.m. and is open to the public.