For the first time in Cal State LA men’s soccer program history, the Golden Eagles are NCAA Division II National Champions.
Riding a single first-half goal from sophomore defender Simon Johansen, Cal State LA locked up the historic 1-0 victory at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Dec. 11, denying the University of Charleston from West Virginia a goal for only the third time this season. With the win, the Cal State LA Golden Eagles avenged their national runners up finish from a season ago, when they fell in the national title game 2-0 against Charleston’s Golden Eagles.
“We know how hard it is to get to the national final, even to the Final Four,” said senior captain David Elizaga in a post-game interview. “We did it last year and ended up losing to the same team that we played today. Winning it this year and winning it in our senior year, it’s an incredible feeling. We have no words to describe it.”
The national championship is the eighth from any sport in school history and Cal State LA’s first since 1981.
The title capped an incredible year for Cal State LA, in which the Golden Eagles were California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) regular season champions, CCAA Tournament Champions, NCAA Division II Super Region 4 Champions and, now, NCAA Division II National Champions.
“This championship means so much to me, the staff, student-athletes, the program and all the people that have come through the years,” said head coach Chris Chamides, who is in his 18th season leading the men’s soccer program. “We’ve been working so hard for so long to become champions, and we have done it at different levels, but to now do it at the national stage, it means the world to us.”
Cal State LA’s road to the national championship final wasn’t easy. In the opening game of the Final Four in Colorado Springs, the Golden Eagles advanced to the national final following a thrilling penalty kick shootout on Dec. 9 against Nova Southeastern.
Elizaga, a forward who has been instrumental in Cal State LA’s scoring in 2021 with four goals and 10 assists, was unsure whether he would be able to play in the final match after pulling his hamstring early in the national semifinal against Nova Southeastern. After an intensive treatment process over two days, Elizaga started on Saturday, and played his role to perfection, assisting once more in a playmaking capacity.
In the 20th minute, Elizaga received the ball near midfield before pulling a nifty spin move to get past two diving Charleston players, and cut the ball in from the left line. Looking for teammates, Elizaga locked eyes with junior midfielder Carl Solli and sent a perfect pass to his teammate through two defenders. Solli dribbled into the box before passing the ball across the face of the goal, where a charging Johansen one-touched the ball from six yards out to put it away.
Despite the early goal, Cal State LA still faced the tough task of keeping the nation’s highest goal-scoring team off the board. Senior captain Morten Bjoershol took the goal in stride reminding his team to stay focused on the task ahead.
“[There was] extreme happiness, but I also told the guys, ‘Let’s keep going,’” said Bjoershol, who was named United Soccer Coaches NCAA Division II Player of the Year on Dec. 13. “There was still so much time left on the clock, and we had the whole game ahead of us. We just wanted to reset as fast as possible, and keep going.”
Ultimately, Cal State LA did what they’ve done all season: shut down potent offenses with one of the nation’s best back lines.
As the last seconds ticked down, Cal State LA defended final shots from Charleston before erupting as time expired. Stoic coaches broke into cheers, jumping and hugging each other on the sideline as their team rushed the field. Players sprinted toward each other crying out in celebration, lifting their teammates into the air while tears streamed down their cheeks.
“We’ve been pushing in this NCAA tournament to survive and advance, and to see it come down to those last seconds and actually understand that we’ve done it,” Chamides said, “it’s a feeling we’ll never forget.”