University of Jamestown soccer great Ruben Zepeda scored his sixth goal in two matches Saturday at the Jimmie turf, but the health of UJ head coach Tommy Nienhaus weighed on the thoughts of everyone.
Nienhaus is currently in a Fargo hospital, weeks into a battle against COVID-19.
"Everyone's praying for him and all of our thoughts are with him," Zepeda said. "We're hoping for him to get a good recovery and we can't wait to have him back."
The Jimmies fell 2-1 hosting Northwestern College in the final game of the fall. Jamestown was locked into the seventh seed for next spring's Great Plains Athletic Conference Tournament and should travel to Sioux City, Iowa, to face second-seeded Briar Cliff when postseason games are scheduled by the conference.
Nienhaus was admitted into the ICU at Jamestown Regional Medical Center before being life-flighted to Fargo last weekend. First-year graduate assistant Sam Winning has filled in as head coach for Nienhaus over the Jimmies' last three games.
"He's stable but he's still in critical condition," Winning said. "The more time goes on where he keeps stable and small improvements, the better. So as long as he keeps showing progress we're going to keep being happy."
Zepeda answered a Northwestern tally pushed into the net by Joshua Wingfield at 6:08 with his 12th goal of the season just 25 seconds later, assisted by junior forward Aaron Pike. Zepeda tied former UJ standouts Jack Humphries and George Gauld for second-most goals scored by a Jimmie in a single season with the tally.
Zepeda, a senior midfielder from Puebla, Mexico, is also second all-time in UJ career goals scored at 31, trailing Jade Johson's record of 35 by four.
"He's been on top form," Winning said. "He's always been on top form in his four years here."
Zepeda buried a UJ-record five goals in the Jimmies' 11-2 victory hosting Presentation College last week, adding an assist and earning GPAC offensive player of the week honors.
"It's all thanks to my team," Zepeda said. "They've given me the trust, and obviously coach Sam and coach Nienhaus, too. It's really helpful to have backup, always, and at the University of Jamestown we always have that."
Tied 1-1 at the half, UJ gave up a rebound goal to Jake Foscalina less than two minutes after the break. The Jimmies would outshoot the Red Raiders 11-8 and earn eight corner kicks but were held scoreless the rest of the way.
"I feel we played well today, it was just more about that final product," Winning said. "It just wasn't there. We were getting into good spaces but they (Northwestern) were just too compact and they're a good defensive team."
Northwestern goalkeeper Ezekiel Foltz finished with six saves to Jamestown keeper Alex Hamer's five. Zepeda had a shot deflect off the far post in the 60th minute.
"Overall, I think we kept fighting and I think we made it rough for them," Zepeda said. "I want to congratulate them for the win and we're looking forward to spring."
The Red Raiders (10-3, 8-3 GPAC) finished fourth in the conference standings and should host Concordia University (9-3-2, 7-2-2) when postseason scheduling is determined.
"It's gonna be hard to leave this turf," Zepeda said. "It's been my home for four years and it's hard to let go, but it's time and I think all the seniors -- and overall everyone -- did their best this season."
UJ (5-7, 5-6) will have the next four months to gear up for a postseason run beginning tentatively at Briar Cliff (10-1-2, 8-1-2). The Jimmies upset second-seeded Midland University 2-1 in the opening round of last year's GPAC tournament in Fremont, Nebraska, before falling at Hastings College in the semifinals.
But more importantly, the Jimmies will remain hopeful that coach Nienhaus can be back on the sideline come spring.
"That's what we're all hoping for," Winning said. "We've just got to keep hoping and keep him in our prayers.
"He'll get there. We know he's a fighter."
Northwestern College 2, University of Jamestown 1
NW 1 1 -- 2
UJ 1 0 -- 1
1. N, Joshua Wingfield, 6:08; 2. J, Ruben Zepeda (Aaron Pike), 6:33.
2. N, Jake Foscalina, 46:23.
Yellow cards: N, Brenna Haggerty 40:29; Luc Roelofs 74:33. J, Zepeda 40:29.
Goalkeeper saves: N, Ezekiel Foltz 3-3--6. J, Alex Hamer 3-2--5.
Records: Northwestern 10-3, 8-3 GPAC. Jamestown 5-7, 4-6 GPAC.