Men’s Soccer Clinch SCIAC Title Before Tournament Loss

Last Saturday, the Pomona-Pitzer men’s soccer team clinched its first unshared SCIAC title in 29 years with a 3-1 victory over visiting Cal Lutheran. The win set up an epic playoff showdown between the No. 1 Sagehens and the No. 4 CMS Stags Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately, the Sagehens came up short in the first round of the playoffs and lost 2-0 to CMS.P-P looked great in the beginning of the match. The team had two prime early scoring chances when James Yong PI ’10 slipped behind the CMS defense. As the game went on, the Stags shored up their defense and shut down Yong, who spent the first 30 minutes working without his normal striking partner Zack Burke PO ’10. Burke had injured the arch of his foot in a game against Redlands and was only able to play for ten-minute stretches because of the pain.Both sides lacked offensive opportunities during the first half. CMS’s best chance came when defender Tomislav Zbozinek CM ’10 banged a free kick off the crossbar, but it never really looked dangerous. P-P managed to sneak Gator Halpern PO ’12 and Evan Munoz PI ’12 behind the defense several times, but they never made it in alone on goal. At halftime, the score was still tied 0-0.Although the teams were equal before the half, CMS came out of the break with a vengeance. Right away, the Stags won a series of corner kicks and continually tested P-P goalkeeper Rollie Thayer PO ’13. Just ten minutes into the second half, one of the Stags’ wing players whipped a low cross into the far post. Someone in the fray got a foot on it, and within a second the ball had ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar and then bounced off the ground. Almost in slow motion, CMS’s 6’5” forward Eric Bean CM ’12 rose up to head the ball into an undefended net. Just like that, it was 1-0 CMS.P-P took the goal right on the chin and staggered for a bit. In the five minutes after the goal, the Stags had several opportunities to extend their lead. It was only the outstanding play of P-P’s back line—Alec Larson PO ’11, Eben Perkins PO ’11, Sean Wales PO ’11, and Erik Munzer PO ’13—that kept CMS from icing a victory right then and there.But the Sagehens eventually regained their footing and mounted a respectable attack. There were several scrambles in front of the CMS net, and a lucky bounce was all the Sagehens needed to equalize. Unfortunately, luck was not with the Sagehens Wednesday. Instead, CMS got a lucky break when one of its midfielders intercepted a pass and counterattacked. After a couple quick passes, he got the ball back and snuck a low shot past P-P’s Thayer that just nicked the far post enough to go in the net. With eight minutes left, it was 2-0 CMS and the game was out of reach.“At this level, and especially in SCIAC, any team can win any game,” said Dan Holleb PO ’10. “What’s really difficult isn’t winning one elimination match, it’s having the fortitude to string together enough strong performances to win the two month league season. It’s tough to lose; there’s no way around that. But this loss shouldn’t take away from the pride we take in our body of work this year.”The SCIAC title is Coach Bill Swartz’s third overall, but he attributed this year’s success to the men on the field.“Any time you are able to win a SCIAC championship with room to spare, it comes down to the players,” he said. “They worked hard all year and just kept getting better and better.”P-P’s most recent game before the CMS match was a make-up game against Whittier Sunday afternoon that ended in a 0-0 tie. There was a wrinkle, though: since Whittier had also just clinched a spot in the SCIAC standings, the game featured both teams’ substitutes while the starters rested for Wednesday’s game against CMS. Still, watching both teams struggle to score a goal provided an opportunity for Coach Swartz to reflect on how far his team has come since 2007, when the Sagehen offense sputtered and the team notched just five conference wins.“I think that season of a few years ago where we only won five games was a good learning experience,” Swartz said. “It taught us a lot about ourselves. All the players going through those bad times were sophomores and freshmen. They came back the next year—last year—and dedicated themselves during the spring training to getting better, and they got better. I think the championship speaks to the work they’ve put into it.”The mood in the P-P locker room was somber after the CMS game, but the loss shouldn’t put a damper on what was truly an excellent season.Just one week ago, I interviewed Yong about his hat trick against Cal Lu. After he scored the third goal, Yong celebrated by running toward the corner flag and dancing exuberantly—at least until defender Zack Mirman PO ’11 came sprinting over and tackled him. I asked Yong why he celebrated that way.“I’ve done it back home a couple of times,” Yong said with a laugh. “I think it’s something you should do. I mean, I have fun scoring, so I think the best way to recreate that is having fun celebrating after you score.”Although the Sagehens came up short Wednesday, they did quite a lot of scoring during the rest of the season. They still have a lot to celebrate.

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