18-1-1.

That is the final record of the 2019 Missouri State men’s soccer team. The record-setting season came to an end on Sunday, Nov. 24, in overtime against No. 8 Central Florida in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The season, which began in August with a match against Kansas City that was canceled due to lightning and ended in overtime in the NCAA tournament, was one of — if not the best — the program has had.

“It was just a special season,” head coach John Leamy said after the Central Florida game. “Nobody wanted to see this end. We couldn’t be more proud of this team for what they have done.”

The Bears were poised to be a top-16 seed in the NCAA tournament with a perfect regular season and a 17-0-0 record going into the MVC tournament championship game. A top-16 seed would have given the Bears a first-round bye. They had been ranked in the top 12 of the United Soccer Coaches Poll for over a month at that point. The Bears lost the championship game in penalty kicks to Loyola Chicago. While a loss in penalty kicks counts as a tie, the NCAA selection committee did not give the Bears a top-16 spot.

The Bears received an at-large bid and hosted Denver University in the first round. On a cold and rainy Nov. 21, the Bears shut out Denver 1-0 to secure their first-ever NCAA tournament win.

The second round was against UCF, and an overtime goal 42 seconds into extra time by UCF ended the Bears’ season.

The Bears went on a 17-game undefeated streak, which was the longest such streak in NCAA Division I soccer since 2011.

The Bears’ leading scorer was a new face around MSU, senior forward Matt Bentley, who transferred from West Virginia Wesleyan. As the Missouri Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Bentley ended the season tied for second place for most goals in a single season by a men’s soccer Bear with 15.

“When he got here in the spring — he just fit in,” Leamy said. “He’s a heck of a player — scoring goals, his work rate and his approach to the game. I don’t think he would mind me saying that he’s a Bear for life.”

Along with Bentley, the Bears graduate three other seniors: defender Ben Stroud, midfielder Stuart Wilkin and forward Ian Jones.

Stroud and Wilkin were both named first team all-MVC, and Jones was named second team all-MVC.

“One of the greatest groups of seniors you’re ever going to find,” Leamy said. “We’re so appreciative and thankful for everything these guys have done.”

The Bears won the regular-season MVC title with a record of 10-0. The Bears had eight players named to all-MVC teams. Junior goalkeeper Michael Creek was named MVC Goalkeeper of the Year and now holds the program record for most wins in a single season by a goalkeeper with 18. Junior defender Kyle Hiebert was named MVC Defensive Player of the Year along with Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Leamy and his staff were named MVC Coaching Staff of the Year.

Leamy said the team is special because the players cared about each other.

“These kids just love each other, and they love playing the sport,” Leamy said. “When you have that combination — the passion to want to play — it’s so special. You don’t see that sometimes with other teams and other schools. These kids embraced it, and it showed.”

Leamy said he and the team are grateful for the fan support they had during the season.

“We have the best supporters a college soccer team could ask for, and that’s a fact,” Leamy said. “We are so blessed to have the folks that got behind this team.”

As for next year — the Bears will return a majority of their roster.

Replacing the 15 goals, Bentley scored and the three goals Jones scored will be difficult, but not impossible.

The same can be said for the contributions from Stroud and Wilkin.

While nothing has been determined yet, there are a few players who came off the bench this season that will probably see an uptick in playing time next season.

Freshman midfielder Kian Yari, who was named to the Valley’s All-Freshman team, is a player Leamy said continued to improve as his first season went on. He is likely a candidate to take over Wilkin’s spot.

Defensively, redshirt freshman defender Hugo Jönnsson filled in on the back end while the team had a few injuries in the early part of the season.

While he may not be in the center back role Stroud had, he could find a more substantial role next season.

In the forward group, sophomore forward Dawson Lee was one of the first players to come off the bench in many games.

Freshman forward Jon Koka played relief minutes this season when the coaching staff decided to rest Bentley and junior forward Josh Dolling in certain situations.

“I don’t think any of us have thought about it too hard yet,” Leamy said. “We’ve got a lot of good guys on this team. We want to honor these seniors, so we step up and have guys improve. The coaching staff has every confidence that these guys are going to rise and put everything they have into it.”