Sagehens men’s soccer snap preseason losing streak with victory over Linfield

Aidan MacLennan PZ '27 soccer player slams a ball into the box
Aidan MacLennan PZ ’27 (left) is one of the Sagehens’ 12 freshman going into this season. (Adam Akins • The Student Life)

After suffering two losses and a tie so far this season, the Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) men’s soccer team rallied to end their preseason with a back-and-forth 3-2 victory over the Linfield Wildcats on the P-P soccer field on Sunday, Sept. 10.

The game started with oppressive humidity and heat, resulting in some lethargy from both teams. However, Linfield managed to strike first, breaking through a disconnected high press from the Sagehens in the first five minutes to send a shot into the back of P-P’s net, giving the Wildcats the early lead.

Regardless, forward Mori Miller PZ ’27 was confident in the team’s ability to bounce back.

“We were disappointed, of course, to concede early like that,” Miller said. “But we really know that we were the better team there. We knew that if we played our game, we would come out with the result we needed.”

According to Coach Mike Ditka, the Sagehens kept their heads up and started playing their game, sustaining a high press and delivering consistent crosses into the box. Attacking midfielder Kieran Veloria PO ’27 brought energy to the side, leading aggressive drives into Linfield’s larger defensive back line that culminated with a goal coming from a well-timed shot to the back post. Veloria, however, took no time to celebrate, and sprinted to grab the ball from the net.

“We call them [Veloria and the other strikers] the gremlins,” Miller said. “They’re just such beasts up there.”

Veloria started play immediately, working with defender Niclas Ulrich PZ ’26 to keep the pressure on the Wildcats in the final third and exchanging crosses into the box with forward Alex Greenstein PZ ’26. Greenstein drew and scored a penalty kick from the Wildcats in the closing ten minutes of the first half, giving P-P the lead going into the half.

The Sagehens kept control for most of the second half, but miscommunication on the backline and an errant back pass to goalkeeper Ethan Bae PO ’25 resulted in an uncontested shot on goal, giving the Wildcats an easy equalizer.

“It was a pretty unlucky play,” Ulrich said. “But we knew we were dominating the game for a while before that goal, and we knew we could move the ball around them pretty well. We’re pretty confident that we could just keep going and fighting.”

The Sagehens restarted from the half field line with intensity. After saying goodbye to all-SCIAC selections Alex Bonville PZ ’23 and Matthew Carlson PZ ’23 at the end of the previous season and a sabbatical from long-term coach Bill Swartz, interim head coach Mike Ditka is rebuilding with a young core. According to Ditka, this preseason has allowed him to see who can step up and lead when facing defeat – exactly what Greenstein did as he slotted the game-winning blistering shot with his weak foot through Lindfield’s defense and into the back of the net.

His brace deflated the Wildcat side and allowed offensive first-year prospects like Adam Leikin PZ ’27, Miller and Khalab Blagburn PO ’27 to come in and deliver repeated shots on goal in the last 15 minutes of the game.

Coach Ditka said he is optimistic about the start of SCIAC league play and saw the young core of his team start to integrate and execute what they have been working on in practice.

“I think the strategy wasn’t so much about what they were doing, it was about what we need to do ourselves and move our process forward,” Ditka said. “Just trying to get better at our details, our style, our system, growing in our roles. We have a lot of young players and we’re just trying to get them feeling confident and improve our chemistry.”

The Sagehens went on to win their conference opener 3-2 versus Whittier on Sep. 13 and will face off against Caltech at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

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