Last week, the Swarthmore College men’s soccer team rebounded from a rough two-game stretch with wins over Centennial foes Muhlenberg and McDaniel to remain tied with Dickinson atop the conference table.
A stunning 2-1 overtime loss to Stevens on September 19 and a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Dickinson on the 22nd were disappointing results for the Garnet, which had just entered the national rankings at No. 14 in the D3Soccer.com poll and No. 18 in the NSCAA/Continental Tire National Poll on September 18, only to drop out of the NSCAA poll the following week. Nevertheless, these setbacks provided motivation for a team looking to defy preseason expectations and find itself back in control of the conference.
“Those two results were definitely a wake-up call,” captain Jack Momeyer ’14 said. “They made us realize that this season will not be without speed bumps, and the better we weather the storm, the easier we can bounce back. I think it is a testament to our resilience; we shook off our two worst results one week, and got our two best results the following week.”
On September 27, the Garnet faced a tough test as it traveled to Allentown, Pa. to take on Muhlenberg at Varsity Field, where the Mules had not lost since November 20, 2010, when they dropped a 1-0 contest to Merchant Marine in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
The road team struck early and often as defenders John Pontillo ’13 and Cameron French ’14 both found the back of the net within the first 15 minutes of play. Pontillo put in a header in the 11th minute off a corner from Noah Sterngold ’14 and French scored in a similar fashion just minutes later, heading in a ball from Momeyer in the 14th minute. In a 2-0 hole, Muhlenberg was able to the cut the deficit in half a mere 22 seconds before intermission as Cody Antonini, a second-team All-American in 2010, scored from the top of the 18-yard box.
Coming out of halftime, the home-standing Mules mounted an offensive attack, registering four of their seven shots on goal for the game in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Goalkeeper Peter Maxted ’14, who currently ranks second in the Centennial Conference with a .848 save percentage and a .068 goals against average, was able to withstand the flurry and finish the game with six saves as the Garnet prevailed 2-1.
“Beating Muhlenberg on the road was a great feeling; to go there on a Thursday night, facing a good team with loud fans on a grass field was a tough test, but fortunately we overcame those obstacles and came away with three important points,” forward Michael Stewart ’15 said. “It was a great team performance, we took our chances and defended well and in the end were able to hold out for a very important victory.”
Two days later, the Garnet returned to Clothier Field for a nightcap against the McDaniel Green Terror on September 29. Although McDaniel has been one of the weaker teams in the Centennial as of late, the team the has second-highest scoring offense in the conference this season and is punctuated by sophomore forward Shane McCracken, whose 10 goals this fall rank second-best in the conference.
At the beginning of the game, however, it was all about Swarthmore’s offense, which threatened early with shots on goal from Sterngold and Momeyer in the first five minutes. The team broke through soon after behind a goal from Stewart, who tallied his team-leading sixth of the season off a well-placed pass from Sterngold. For the third time in four games, the Garnet found the back of the net within the first 15 minutes of play; against Stevens, Stewart had scored after a throw-in barely a minute into the game.
“The early goals have been really good,” French said. “I’ve rarely played on a team that comes out so ready, and I think that shows how capable we are of dominating an opposing team when we are superbly focused. That said, the fact that the goals tend to dry up after the opening few minutes shows that we relax too easily, and don’t maintain that level of pressure for long enough to really keep teams down.”
In the second half, the Green Terror peppered Maxted with six shots, including a point-blank try from McCracken in the 70th minute that would have been the equalizer if not for the great play of the Garnet keeper. After more evenly matched play, a 79th-minute goal from Pontillo, his second in two games, made it 2-0 and effectively put the game out of reach. The Garnet finished the game with 22 shots, seven on goal, and Maxted made four saves for his second clean sheet of the season.
After picking up two crucial conference wins last week, the Garnet, which is 7-1-1 overall, finds itself tied with Dickinson for the conference lead at 3-0-1, with five games remaining in Centennial play for both teams. Neither squad has faced the third or fourth place teams in the standings, Haverford and Johns Hopkins.
With nearly half of its Centennial games in the books, the team seems satisfied with its play as of late, but recognizes that the short-term is of limited value in such a competitive conference. To wit, last year’s squad went 4-1 in its first five Centennial games and then finished 1-3 in its last four, dropping contests to Ursinus, Johns Hopkins and Haverford, to narrowly miss out on the postseason.
“We haven’t been taking anything for granted and have been very focused on getting the job done throughout the season,” Sterngold said. “We certainly still have a lot to work on but if we keep approaching our training sessions and games with the same attitude and focus we have displayed thus far we will improve as a team and grow into the latter stages of the season.”
The Garnet returns to action on October 6 as it travels to Gettysburg College to take on the Bullets in another conference matchup. On paper, a game against the worst-ranked team in the Centennial seems to unquestionably favor the Garnet, but the long road trip, coupled with the home team’s desperation to finally earn a conference win, has members of the team cautious about the prospects.
“Playing Gettysburg away is never easy,” Pontillo said. “They haven’t had a great start this year, but every team in the Centennial Conference is good. We look to build on the things we have been doing well lately — defending as a unit, possessing the ball, and being creative in the attacking third — next Saturday against Gettysburg in order to pick up another vital three points in a tough Centennial Conference.”
The game is scheduled to start at 1:00 p.m.