The cancellation of Saturday’s regular-season finale against Utah Valley provided a little extra motivation for at least three members of the No. 12 Air Force men’s soccer team ahead of the Western Athletic Conference tournament in Seattle.
The top-seeded Falcons, the WAC’s regular season champions for a second consecutive year, are a safe bet for an NCAA Tournament bid, but a couple wins this week would go a long way in helping Air Force host an NCAA Tournament game. That would provide senior cousins James Sims, David Louthan and Austin Dewing another shot to play together not far from where they were raised.
“Absolutely it does,” answered Louthan, son of former Falcon quarterback Marty Louthan, when asked if a canceled senior day increased motivation. “We’re hoping to host one in the NCAAs, so hopefully we can pull off winning the WAC tournament.”
The trio — along with Sims’ older brother John, who was a senior on the 2017 Air Force squad that lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — have spent most of their lives in close proximity, playing sports and getting home-schooled on a ranch owned by grandfather Mert Hull, a member of the Air Force’s 1961 graduating class, just north of the academy.
“We’d get our schoolwork done early, get done quick so we could go play sports,” Dewing said.
“It was like growing up with five or six families of brothers and sisters. That’s how close we are.”
They headed to Air Academy for high school and helped the Kadets win state championships in soccer and basketball as seniors. Dewing and Sims were signed by Falcon soccer coach Doug Hill, while Louthan initially signed for basketball before coming back to soccer.
All three cited faith, not planning, in helping them get to the point where they’re regular starters for the 15-3 Falcons.
“Honestly, it was so cool,” Louthan said. “I credit God 100 percent for allowing all of us to come here. It literally just kind of fell into our laps.”
Dewing was the first to break through, scoring a goal and registering two assists as a freshman before becoming a starter as a sophomore.
“That keeps you on the field,” Hill said of Dewing’s early production.
He’s the program’s active leader in career goals with 28, including 11 this year, and has teamed with All-American Tucker Bone to form one of the nation’s most dangerous attacks.
After growing into his 6-4 frame, Sims excelled at left back as a junior, earning second-team All-WAC, before moving into a key role as a defensive midfielder this season where he’s scored twice.
“Jimmy, I knew would be really good the whole time,” Hill said. “It was just a matter of time for him to grow into his body. He’s one of those guys that looked like a hurt giraffe when they’re a freshman.”
Louthan’s break came later, as injuries and the presence of 2017 All-American Oscar Chacon delayed his meaningful minutes. As a senior, however, he’s started in all 17 matches he’s appeared, scoring a pair of goals.
“He took on the role we asked him to do, and he does it well, which is winning balls,” Hill said. “He’s very effective on set pieces.”
The celebration of their development and achievements, alongside the seven other Falcon seniors, was supposed to come Saturday before a band of snow left the pitch unplayable before Utah Valley left town.
“It’s the one game that you kinda … it’s memorable just because of what it signifies even though it’s just another game at the end of the day,” Sims said. “I was disappointed, but at the end of the day, honestly, I don’t think it hurt us at all.”
Now, the hope is the extra rest and motivation could produce at least one more chance to play in front of the family and friends who were on hand Saturday.
The Falcons’ first conference tournament game is Friday against the winner between No. 4 Grand Canyon and No. 5 Utah Valley. Another win in Sunday’s championship would come with an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament and a likely chance to host.
“Home-field advantage is so huge for us. Altitude and just we know the field, so that motivation to almost guarantee us a win, you know, is huge,” Dewing said. “We’ve got a big chip on our shoulders over the last two years, not being able to secure that WAC Tournament championship, so I don’t think we needed any extra motivation, but I think we got extra motivation.”