The Pomona-Pitzer men’s soccer team had a mixed weekend as their up-and-down opening to the season continued. A decisive 4-0 victory against a winless Caltech team on Saturday gave the Sagehens their first SCIAC win of the season, but they failed to replicate that performance a day later against visiting University of Texas at Dallas, who defeated P-P 4-0. The Comets, ranked 15th nationally in Division III, were heavy favorites entering the game. The Sagehens also fell to Redlands in a 1-0 overtime defeat on Wednesday, Sept. 25.
The match against UT Dallas started off fairly boisterously, with both teams showing plenty of attacking intent in sending the ball forward at every opportunity. At the same time, a lack of passing cohesiveness from either side meant the early stages of the game were rather scrappy. Still, it was UT Dallas that seemed to have a slightly sharper edge about it in the opening minutes, perhaps unsurprising given it had warmed up with a 4-0 win over University of California, Santa Cruz two days earlier to preserve its unbeaten record.
And indeed, it didn’t take the Comets too long to find the opener. UT Dallas spent much of the first half favoring its right hand flank in attack, and it was from that side that the first score originated. In the 12th minute, a searching ball from first-year midfielder Connor Crabtree found a powerful run from forward Michael Darrow on the right wing, who in turn squared the ball towards fellow senior Benjamin Tijerina. A deft touch from Tijerina allowed him take the ball around Sagehens goalkeeper Carson Witte PO ‘16, making his first start for the team, and Tijerina shot into an empty net.
P-P’s best chance of the match arrived minutes later, when a delivery off a corner kick caused a scramble in the UT Dallas box. The ball fell to defender Graham Barlow PO ’16, whose hurried shot toward the goal was blocked on the line by a Comets defender after it had beaten UT Dallas keeper Steven Nicknish. The rest of the first half saw plenty of attacking intent from both teams, although UT Dallas clearly gained the upper hand as most of the action unfolded in Pomona’s defensive half. P-P failed to threaten Nicknish in goal during most of the first half and eventually gave up a goal in the 37th minute. The Comets’ Antonio Rodriguez hit a long ball that found Michael Matthews, who held off defenders to squirm a shot underneath Witte in the net.
Conceding goals early and late in the first period seemed likely to hurt P-P’s confidence, and it was uncertain at half time whether or not the home side would be able to get back in the game. Encouragingly, the the Sagehens started controlling the ball more in the midfield at the beginning of the second half. Nathan Shekita PO ’16 was a standout in that area of the pitch for P-P all afternoon, showing good technique and dynamism as he attempted to get his side back in the game.
P-P’s effort proved unsuccessful as the match was eventually put out of reach in the 54th minute. A counterattacking move allowed UT Dallas forward Omar Jaroun to find Darrow in the left channel, who found a small bit of space and fired a low shot across his body that beat Witte and gave the Comets a 3-0 lead. The goal earned Darrow the all-time Comets scoring record as he notched the 42nd goal of his collegiate career.
The pace of the match slowed down after that as UT Dallas seemed largely content to sit on its lead and head back to Texas with two wins on its California tour. P-P aimed to score a consolation goal, with the likes of freshmen Voja Maric PO ’17 and JK Gopakumar PO ’17 turning out good performances. Ultimately, however, the Sagehens failed to penetrate the Comets’ defense, with Nicknish making only three saves while his counterpart Witte had to make 10 blocks—including a few particularly impressive ones—to keep his side in the game. The final touch to the scoreline was added in the 80th minute, as a clearance from UT Dallas captain Bryan Shiba found J.T. Hawkins on a counterattack, who in turn squared to Lukas Teese in the Sagehens’ box for a simple finish from a few yards out.
Although the final result undoubtedly disappointed the P-P players and coaches, they can take some comfort in the fact that they were playing one of the best teams in all of Division III, and that players like Shekita and Witte turned in performances that suggest the Sagehens have the talent to improve on their performance as well as their win-loss record. With the win over Caltech on the board, P-P can turn its focus back to the SCIAC division and on earning a high enough position to compete for postseason honors, a mission that continues with a home game against Occidental College tomorrow.