The Pomona-Pitzer men’s soccer team booked just their second NCAA Division III Tournament
appearance in 34 years, downing the University of Redlands 1-0 last Saturday to clinch the SCIAC
title ahead of a trip this week to Texas to play the University of Texas, Dallas.
P-P ended the SCIAC
regular season in second place as Redlands leapfrogged over them in the final few rounds
of the season. Still, the Sagehens entered the four-team postseason
SCIAC tournament full of confidence after a positive year and were favorites as
they hosted third-seeded Chapman University last Thursday, Nov. 6.
P-P made the breakthrough in
the nineteenth minute as Voja Maric PO ’17 played an ambitious one-two with Matthew Marvin PO ’17, with the latter hitting a long pass into
Maric’s stride. The forward composed himself on the right-hand side of the
penalty area before kicking a low, accurate finish into the far corner of the
Maric was the star once again in the second half as he doubled
the Hens’ lead.
A long 53rd minute kick from keeper Nigel Brady
PO ’15 was flicked by the head of Drew Lind PZ ’15 into Maric’s path in
the penalty area. Although the striker’s initial attempt was blocked, he
prodded home the rebound to put P-P in the driving seat.
“It felt surreal scoring both goals, especially since they both came from good build-up play that led to the goals,” Maric said. “As a forward it always feels good to score goals because you know you are helping your team.”
The visitors did host
a late rally in the 82nd minute as Jake Sarmiento tapped in a cross
from Gino Belassen. It was all too little, too late, however, as the Hens closed out a 2-1 win to book a meeting with Redlands in the SCIAC Championship
Game on Saturday, Nov. 8. P-P lost to the Bulldogs in both regular season encounters, including in
a late-season home game that ultimately determined the regular season SCIAC
title, but there were few signs that the Hens were overwhelmed.
Indeed, it was
the hosting Bulldogs who found themselves on the back foot as Maric nearly combined with
Avery Raimondo PO ’17 in the opening few minutes to create a chance on goal.
That particular move failed, but the same two players were responsible for the
game’s only goal.
A low, hard cross by Maric found Raimondo at the top of the
six-yard box, with the senior forward producing a fine volleyed finish to leave
the Redlands keeper with no chance.
“Like in the semifinals, the goal in the finals was a result of great team play before the goal,” Maric said. “This year we have really grown as a team and developed an attractive style of play to score quality goals, and the goal in the finals was no exception.”
The hosts were spurred into action after
that and started to impose themselves more on general play but failed to
create many meaningful chances as the Hens put on a masterful defensive
Redlands was slightly more effective early in the second half, and
their best chance came in the 53rd minute. A deflected shot from the
Bulldogs’ Chase Boone squirmed past Brady in the P-P goal, but Nathan Shekita
PO ’15 was alert to clear off the line and preserve the one-goal lead. Apart
from that close call, however, Redlands was unable to penetrate the Hens’
resistance. The P-P backline stayed organized and composed and was helped by the Hens’ midfield, which maintained possession and kept control
of the game from the center.
Another half-chance did fall the Bulldogs’ way in
the 83rd minute, but a Tom Elsea header at the back post sailed over
the crossbar and P-P held on until the final whistle.
The victory handed the Hens their first SCIAC Postseason Tournament title in history, after a
loss to Redlands in 2008 in the team’s only previous trip to the title match.
Even more pertinently, the win saw the Sagehens qualify for the NCAA Division III
Tournament for the first time since 1980, and, after Monday’s national draw, P-P
will head to the UT Dallas sub-regional on Saturday, Nov. 15, where the Sagehens will prepare to
play the hosts.
“We are going into Saturday confident that we will play our usual style of football, and with the right mentality, high work rate, and our style of play, we can compete against any team in the tournament,” Maric said.
A win in Saturday’s game would see P-P advance to a Sunday, Nov. 16, matchup against the winner of the other semi-final between Trinity College
(Texas) and Hardin-Simmons University. The winner of that game will then enter the draw for
the national Round of 16. Although such speculation will likely take back-seat
for the P-P team as they focus on the game against UT Dallas, with how the postseason has gone so
far, P-P cannot help but dream.
“We know UT Dallas is a good opponent, and we will respect them to the fullest, but ultimately we are going there hoping to get a win,” Maric said.