Men’s Soccer Defies Predictions and Wins PL Title

 

 

Evan Xenopoulos

After being predicted to finish fourth in the pre-season Patriot League rankings, Colgate proved all of its doubters wrong by winning the conference title with victories over Bucknell and Lafayette. Although the University of South Florida defeated Colgate in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament, the Raiders turned many heads by going toe-to-toe with a nationally-ranked program.

Colgate faced a familiar foe in the Bucknell Bison during the Patriot League semifinals on Friday, November 16. Earlier this season, the Raiders beat the Bison, 2-1 in double-overtime on a bicycle-kick goal by junior Matt Leach. Head Coach Erik Ronning wanted the team to forget the earlier result and come out strong against Bucknell and the Raiders took their coach’s advice to heart and attacked the Bison early. Colgate’s attack produced immediate results, as the Raiders were awarded a penalty kick in the third minute when junior Daniel Kerley made an impressive run into the box and got taken down by a Bucknell defender.

Senior Eric Anton, who was later named the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, stepped up and netted the penalty kick for his fifth goal of the season. After taking the lead, the Raiders defense, led by senior Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Dan Belke and junior goalie David Cappuccio, looked to keep its one-goal advantage intact. Bucknell prevented that from happening though when Mark Schmiegel scored from ten yards out, tying the score in the 79th minute. Both teams had their fair share of chances at the end of regulation and in both overtimes, but it would take an exciting penalty kick shootout to determine the winner.

Anton and Belke scored on their penalty kick attempts, but Bucknell’s Codey Curnette and Conor O’Brien matched them. With the score tied at two heading into the third round, Bucknell’s Patrick Selwood hit the post behind Cappuccio. First-year Steven Miller had the chance to give Colgate the lead, but Bison keeper Joey Kuterbach stopped his effort. Bucknell’s Chris Hennings shot his attempt over the crossbar, and Colgate’s chances to win the match rested on the shoulders of sophomore Alex Weekes. Showing great composure, Weekes knocked the ball past Kuterbach to give the Raiders the 3-2 lead. With Leach waiting as the fifth shooter for the Raiders, Cappuccio stoned Justin Wofl’s attempt cold, giving the Raiders a ticket to the Patriot League finals.

“We played a great game of soccer, but we made one mistake and Bucknell made us pay for it,” Ronning said. “We were fortunate to win in PK’s, but it would have been a crime if we lost that game. We had a lot of good chances, but we survived and showed great mental toughness to win the penalty kicks.”

In the Patriot League finals, the Raiders came out strong against the fourth-seeded Lafayette Leopards, who upset first-seed and host Holy Cross, 2-1 in the semifinals. At the 15-minute mark, junior Glenn Volk, who is known as a defensive enforcer, netted his first career goal in the most important match of his career. Volk received a cross from sophomore Chris Koontz and showed great skill in finishing the chance. The Raiders continued to press in the first half and could have had a two or three-goal lead going into halftime. Colgate continued to play great soccer in the second half, but in the last ten minutes, Lafayette did everything they could to tie the score. The Leopards came close, but the Raiders’ defense held on to give Colgate its first Patriot League Championship in ten years.

“We played our best soccer of the year during this weekend,” Ronning said. “We bent against Lafayette, but we did not break. I definitely feel that the best team won the tournament and our players showed that we are the best team in the Patriot League.”

Anton had similar sentiments after the tournament win.

“Winning the Patriot League has been a goal of ours since the first day of preseason,” he said. “It feels so good to accomplish the goal that we have been striving for all year.”

The Raiders got a tough seeding in the bracket, as they were paired up with the USF Bulls in the first round. The Bulls were the 23rd ranked team in the nation heading into the match and crushed Patriot League member American University, 6-1 earlier in the season. Also, the Raiders had to travel down all the way down to Tampa for the match, which was highly unusual and unlucky since the NCAA seeders try to pair regional rivals in the opening rounds. However, despite all the obstacles, Colgate was definitely ready to take down the Bulls.

The Raiders came out a little nervous in the first half and found themselves down 1-0 after Jason Devenish scored a goal in the 19th minute. The 1-0 score held up heading into halftime. During the intermission, Coach Ronning challenged the team to come out and take the second half, and the Raiders responded to their coach’s demands. Colgate dominated the second half and tied the score after Volk scored his second career goal from forty yards out in the 54th minute.

With the score tied at one, the Raiders continued to press and had numerous opportunities to take the lead, but USF jumped ahead in the 72nd when Yohance Marshall scored a goal in the middle of a scrum in the box after a corner kick. The Raiders never gave up and were robbed of many chances to tie the game in the final eighteen minutes. With USF goalie Diego Restrepo out of position, junior Jimmy Stephens found himself with the ball and a clear shot at an open net. But a USF defender skirted to the net and stopped Stephens’ laser shot by knocking it out-of-bounds. With just over a minute left, Leach directly headed the ball to the net after a Weekes free kick. The ball hurtled toward the goal, but it hit the corner of the goalpost. Although the Raiders ended up losing 2-1, Colgate proved that it can compete at the national level.

Ronning was very proud of his team’s effort.

“South Florida scored a weak first goal, but I was proud of what we did in the second half,” he said. “The team came out and dominated South Florida. I think we were unlucky not to tie, but we left Florida with no regrets.”

The Raiders finished the season with a solid overall record of 9-6-5 and a Patriot League title. The team will lose some key players in Anton, Belke, Mike Parshley and Mike Hensler, but these seniors taught the younger players a lot of key lessons. Colgate has a great group of young players coming back, and Ronning feels that this season is a great stepping stone for the future of the program. The Raiders have been improving every year since Ronning came three years ago, and this year, the team achieved its goal. The future of the Colgate soccer program looks bright and with one Patriot League title under his belt, Ronning and his young team will look to build on this year’s impressive season.