Northwood University joined the Palm Beach County Sports Commission and the City of Delray Beach in hosting the 2014 NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) Men’s Soccer National Championship, a weeklong 16-team knockout tournament featuring 30 exciting matches at Seacrest Soccer Complex in Delray Beach, including an overtime thriller that gave Davenport their first ever men’s soccer banner. The Davenport University Panthers made the trip south all the way from Caledonia Township, Michigan as the no. 6 seed in the tournament and beat no. 9 seed the University of Texas at Brownsville Ocelots 2-1 in overtime courtesy of a Chase Burgess header and game-winner during the 93rd minute of the match which in turn ended the weeklong- single-elimination event at the Seacrest Soccer Complex in Delray Beach. To capture the championship, Davenport had to overcome adversity in the final. In the 28th minute, Texas at Brownsville’s Ricardo Diegues booted his eighth goal of the championship to give the Ocelots the early lead. Davenport’s Dzenan Catic tied things up 1-1 in the 76th minute and the teams played to tie through regulation. In overtime, Davenport’s Lito Esquivel took a corner kick from the left wing that connected with Burgess on the header in front of the net to give the Panthers their championship. “Year 2014 was a special year for us… It started in August and it was a long, long season and we have some spectacular seniors on this squad that really helped us out,” said Davenport head coach Chris Hughes. “We have some youth and depth on this team which was just special for us and to cap it off that way (winning the title) was even more special. Our senior center back that almost didn’t come out this year was the game winning goal.” “These kids have worked so hard and we try to get them to believe in the system and trying to change the culture into something I believe is special. Right now it’s a great night for Panther nation and our program. It will take me a few weeks to process this one,” said Hughes. The Northwood University Seahawks from neighboring West Palm Beach helped host the tournament and we’re the no. 16 seed in match play. They didn’t disappoint. In the second round, in front of a packed home stands at the Seacrest Soccer Complex, the Seahawks had the biggest upset of the tournament when they shocked no. 1 seed Rio Grande University 3-2 in overtime. “Beating the no. 1 team in the nation is a huge achievement for Northwood University. As the boss (captain on the field) of this team I knew our guys were hopping and would play great out there on the pitch. All week we knew that our team was one to be reckon with and not just the hosts, said Alan McCann, Northwood University captain, 25, from Dublin, Ireland. “Our team motto is Team, Family Seahawks. We’re a small family at this university and we support one another. There’s nothing like fighting to win with your best mates! We believed in one another and that’s why we won.” Vinnie Cainth, a goalkeeper and striker for the Seahawks originally from London, England echoed his captain McCann’s remarks. “We looked at this game with one focus… Our journey doesn’t stop here.” In the quarterfinals, Northwood ran right smack into the undefeated Ocelots and lost 4-0 with only four shots on goal. Despite the loss, Nick Davidson, Director of Athletics at Northwood University, said the exposure for Northwood and the other NAIA teams competing goes far pas the soccer played on the pitch. “Hosting this tournament is great exposure for your players, your sports programs and your university,” said Davidson. “The real reason we’re doing this on this end is that we want to connect to the community and let them know we’re here. Our NAIA Champions of Character Initiative gave local students at Plumosa School of the Arts which neighbors Seacrest Soccer Complex, the opportunity to meet the NAIA soccer players here competing in the tournament. It was an opportunity for good men to spend some time mentoring good kids.” The once in a lifetime experience for the students began early in the week when the college athletes spent an entire afternoon at Plumosa reading books to the students, answering questions about school, soccer and life, in a real opportunity for the students to have a role model to look up to and even a trip to see a game during the tournament at neighboring Seacrest Soccer Complex. NAIA president and CEO Jim Carr attended the tournament in Delray Beach, and visited downtown with four of the team’s during the City of Delray Beach’s 100-foot Christmas Tree. Carr said during the festivities that he holds the Champions of Character Initiative close to his heart. “Delray Beach is beautiful, it’s a great place, great complex (Seacrest Soccer Complex) here for soccer, it’s probably 25 degrees in Kansas City (where Carr’s NAIA office is located) so it’s nice to be here. The whole community but specifically Northwood has taken this on in a way it’s all about the student athlete experience. With each of our championships we ask our student athletes to go out in the community, we partner with the host to determine whether a YMCA event or certain schools. We have a Champions of Character Initiative at our NAIA schools and it’s based on the five core values of respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership and sportsmanship,” said Carr. He said the NAIA Men’s Soccer Championship will return in 2015 at the same location at Seacrest Soccer Complex. Margie Walden, a member of the board of directors at the Palm Beach County Sports Commission, a sponsor of the NAIA Men’s Soccer Championship, hopes this is the beginning of deeper relationships with organizations calling Delray Beach host for future championships. “All 30-teams stayed in hotels in Delray Beach and Boca Raton so that’s huge for the economic impact to our community. We had a national champion crowned here in Palm Beach County and that’s a really great thing for the City of Delray Beach and Palm Beach County. We also had some great sponsors this year that hosted the teams, and in turn the sponsors served as honorary coaches. We had young students involved with the NAIA Champions of Character Initiative and those students from Plumosa even got to attend a game. I think its great so many young athletes from around the world had the opportunity to visit Delray Beach and compete for a men’s soccer championship,” said Walden.