The Pomona-Pitzer men’s soccer team had a tough break this past week, losing two in-conference clashes to drop to below .500 in league play, after opening its SCIAC schedule with a win. P-P (1-3-1, 1-2 SCIAC) fell on the road to Occidental College Sept. 12 and at home to Whittier College Sept. 16, already leaving the team in need of a turnaround.
P-P traveled to the Occidental Tigers' field over the weekend on the back of an encouraging 4-2 win in the SCIAC opener at the University of Redlands, but forward and key offensive threat Voja Maric PO '17 said that the defending-champion P-P team was prepared for a rough contest.
“We are also a big target for the other teams in SCIAC since we won the tournament last year,” Maric said. “Everyone wants to beat us and take the title away from us this year.”
The Sagehens dug themselves into an early hole, conceding a goal in just the seventh minute to Occidental's Connor Freeman, who was the beneficiary of some good interplay between teammates Keegan McChesney and Morgan Bennett-Smith.
To the visitors’ credit, they refused to let the setback harm their spirit, and Tigers keeper Theo Atkinson was consistently tested—although the same could be said of P-P goalkeeper Ben Mitchell PZ ’18, who had to make a few smart saves to keep the deficit at one.
Mitchell couldn’t hold out for long, however, and the Tigers' Liam Walsh doubled the lead just a few minutes before halftime in a scramble following an Occidental corner kick. This threatened to be a decisive blow, with Mitchell, once again, having to be sharp early in the second half to keep P-P's chance of winning within reach.
Mitchell’s outfield teammates rewarded his efforts in the 58th minute as forward Max DeWit PZ ’19 slotted home a neat solo effort to pull the visitors back within one. However, a comeback was not in the cards, as the Sagehens seemed to tire in the game’s later stages. A 77th-minute effort from midfielder JK Gopakumar PO ’17 was P-P’s last attempt on target, but Occidental shut the game down in the last 10 minutes to hand the visitors a 2-1 loss, P-P's first of the SCIAC season.
After the game, Maric acknowledged that the Sagehens had struggled to hit top form.
“I think after the win against Redlands, we got too complacent,” Maric said. “It’s a tough game, also, going to their place, so we got punished for our complacency.”
Next, the Sagehens hosted Whittier on Wednesday evening, looking to bounce back quickly from Saturday’s disappointment. There was no scoring in the first half, with both keepers turning in decent performances once again. Maric hit the post after shooting from an angle in the 17th minute, while a close-range effort late in the half from forward Tomas Negritto PZ ’19 was turned wide by Whittier keeper Jorge Rivas.
With the game in a scoreless stalemate at the half, it was the visitors who broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute with Ryan Wood latching onto a pass from Pablo Gomez, blasting a shot past Mitchell. Whittier doubled its lead 18 minutes later with a more spectacular effort. Jacob Schaniel connected on a weak P-P clearance to launch a 30-yard missile into the back of the home team’s goal. The goal finally knocked the stuffing out of the Sagehens, who barely threatened the scoreboard the rest of the game, en route to a 2-0 loss.
With Head Coach Bill Swartz criticizing a lack of hunger and hustle from his team following the match, the Sagehens will hope to rebound quickly as they face off with Washington University in Saint Louis Sept. 18, before returning to SCIAC play to host Califonia Lutheran University the following day.
Maric feels that the squad is more than capable of finding its feet sooner rather than later.
“We are still a fairly new team, and it is early in the season,” Maric said. “The more we play together and the harder we work together, the better this team will become.”