It had been three seasons since the Swarthmore men’s soccer team lost consecutive matches, so following road defeats to Stevens and Dickinson two weeks ago, the team gathered to reflect and recommit.
“Our real emphasis on the little details was starting to get a little bit sloppy,” said head coach Eric Wagner, whose team had the second-fewest losses in all of Division III over the past two seasons.
“We’ve addressed it and are moving in a very positive direction. The other thing was complacency, feeling like ‘we’re undefeated and can do no wrong,’ and we got off the bus at Stevens without a lot of energy or enthusiasm.”
The energy, enthusiasm and attention to detail were on display this past week as Swarthmore rolled to a 2-0 week with a pair of Centennial victories over Muhlenberg at home and McDaniel on the road to snap the mini-skid. With these results, the Garnet jumped three spots to No. 11 in the D3soccer.com national poll.
“The two losses were a reminder that winning isn’t just going to happen for us,” Noah Sterngold ’14 said. “After the season we had last year and the first five games this year I think we may have become a little complacent and began thinking that we wouldn’t have to put out a ton of effort to win every game. Now, after the losses, we all recognize that we’ll have to work and fight for every win.”
Last Wednesday’s matchup with Muhlenberg was a rematch of last year’s Centennial Conference Final, won by the Garnet 2-1 in double overtime. After Fabian Castro ’12 put the Garnet on the board first by finishing a rebound after a shot by Geoffrey Stewart ’15, the Mules tied it in the final ten minutes of regulation. Off of a bizarre sequence at the top of the Swarthmore box, Muhlenberg midfielder Josh Luiginbuhl headed a ball away from keeper David D’Annunzio ’12 and finished into the empty net.
So, the teams went to overtime again, where in the second session, striker David Sterngold ’12 took another feed from Stewart and buried his 10th career game-winner, off the inside of the post, to send the Mules packing with another stunning loss.
Despite getting three points with the positive result, the Garnet conceded a goal for the fourth consecutive match. “We are not as rock solid, especially defensively, as we want to be. That is attention to detail. Defending is about hard work, concentration and attention to detail. When we do that, we do it extremely well,” Wagner said.
On Saturday, a first-half goal from Jack Momeyer ’14 and second-half penalty from Micah Rose ’12 proved plenty for the Garnet as the team, secured its first shutout since September 14, 2-0 over the homestanding Green Terror.
With the shutout, the 25th of his Swarthmore career, D’Annunzio tied the program record for career shutouts held by Andrew Cavanaugh ’91.
“After the four games without shutouts, I started to care a lot less about the shutout record,” D’Annunzio said.
“There was definitely a feeling of accomplishment after we got the shutout at McDaniel, so it means a lot to me, but I would be completely content with winning every game for the rest of the season 2-1 and winning a National Championship.”
Though goaltenders are credited with shutouts, clean sheets are usually a reflection of the entire team’s performance, and D’Annunzio has been aided by the quality of the backs in front of him.
“David has an unbelievable group of defenders and a team that defends in front of him,” Wagner said.
“You’ve got an All-Conference player in Pierre Dyer ’12, a three-year starter and captain in John Pontillo ’13, last year’s Freshman of the Year really in Noah Sterngold, and either Toby Heavenrich ’12 or Cameron French ’14 who are just outstanding athletes. But if that doesn’t translate through the midfield and into the forwards, then it is not a real defensive effort.”
Sterngold and his fellow defenders have recommitted to doing the little things in order to play the lock-down defense which surrendered just 12 goals in 21 matches last season.
“We need to recommit to doing what it takes to keep a clean sheet,” Sterngold said. “I think we as a team didn’t prepare ourselves every game for what it would take to keep a clean sheet and thought it would happen for us easier than it was ever going to.”
The Garnet’s streak continued Wednesday with a 1-0 win at Manhattanville. They will play three matches over the October break, a Sunday tilt with Gettysburg from Clothier Field and road contests at Scranton and Ursinus. Gettysburg currently sits tied atop the Centennial standings at 3-0-1 while the Garnet is one point back at 3-1.
Kick-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.