The No. 11/12 Swarthmore men’s soccer team (11-1-2, 6-0-1 CC) remained undefeated in October, fighting its way to a come-from-behind victory against a Johns Hopkins squad that proved to be much stronger than its 5-7-2 record. The win extended the Garnet’s unbeaten streak to eight, dating back to a Sep. 19 loss to Stevens Institute of Technology. It also completed a perfect 3-0 fall break that included wins over Neumann and Centennial Conference rival Ursinus.
Though Swarthmore traveled to Baltimore boasting a significantly better record than the hosts, the Blue Jays proved to not be intimidated. Due in large part to strong plays from goalkeeper Peter Maxted ’14 (6 saves), Swarthmore managed to withstand a first half dominated by the Blue Jays, who launched eight shots in the half, compared to just three for the Garnet. Head Coach Eric Wagner acknowledged the effective game plan of the Blue Jays. “They were very physical and we really struggled to deal with their pressure in the first half,” he said.
The Blue Jays’ pressure paid off when, just 37 seconds into the second half, Brandon Supino put Hopkins ahead with a breakaway goal. Although the score gave Hopkins the lead, Swarthmore appeared to be the team that benefited most from it, as the visitors dominated the rest of the game. “It was as if that goal turned a switch on, because we immediately started moving the ball a lot better and controlling the pace,” Wagner said. Swarthmore put near constant pressure on the Blue Jays defense for the remainder of the match, trying 10 shots, seven of which went on goal.
After being stymied for most of the half by Hopkins keeper Nick Cerrone, Swarthmore finally broke through in the 74th minute, with David Geschwind ’16 netting a header off of a Jake Weiner ’14 throw in. That goal set up the game winner, a cracking 87th minute shot by captain John Pontillo ’13 off a corner kick.
While the goal itself was crucial, it was Pontillo’s leadership and quick thinking that made it especially impressive. One of the strongest players on the team at headers near the net, Pontillo customarily lines up around the goal for corner kicks. However, Pontillo recognized that Hopkins had been positioning its players close to the goal on previous corners and adjusted accordingly. “I anticipated this happening again,” Pontillo said. “I knew that if I could lose my man, I would be wide open at the top of the box with a chance to shoot. Fortunately, the ball popped out to me and I put a good strike on goal.” Pontillo’s goal proved decisive, and a team-leading 10th goal by Michael Stewart ’15 on an 89th minute breakaway made the final tally 3-1.
That Pontillo had the confidence to reposition himself at such a critical juncture in the match was impressive, but also unsurprising, for Pontillo’s gutsy leadership has defined Swarthmore’s season. Coach Wagner heaped praise on the four-year starter and two-year captain after the game, calling Pontillo “a leader of team in spirit and performance,” adding, “He has been pillar around which everything else is centered.” Captain Jack Momeyer ‘14 echoed Wagner’s praises, calling him an “anchor” for his consistently effective defensive play.
Pontillo heads a senior class that has provided needed experience and leadership to a team filled with several younger players. As the group, which consists of Pontillo, Jake Tracy ’13, Brett McLarney ’13 and Thomas Drew ’13, heads into its final regular season home game on Saturday against archrival Haverford at 7 p.m., it hopes to put the finishing touches on a successful four years. The seniors currently have a 59-10-10 career record, and their contributions have not been lost on their coach and teammates. Momeyer cited the attitude of the seniors as being essential to the team’s success. “They are encouraging, experienced, and most of all cool-headed,” he said. Each has made important individual contributions to the team’s impressive record.
Wagner called Tracy “a model member of our team,” adding, “I would want my sons to emulate him in a heartbeat.” Momeyer praised Tracy both as a player and as a teammate, calling him “positive, stern, and reliable between the pipes, as well as the nicest person I have ever met.”
Though McLarney struggled with injuries during the past two seasons, Wagner recalled the contributions and lauded the toughness and resilience of a player described by Momeyer as “the most well-respected member of our team,” calling the team “fortunate to have him involved again this year,” McLarney was a member of the Garnet’s 2008 Conference champion squad and earned all-Centennial honors in 2009.
Drew has been one of the most versatile members of the Garnet. According to Wagner, “He has played just about every position besides keeper, and he settled in as winger this year.” Drew’s work ethic left an impression on Momeyer, who called the senior “consistently one of the best players in training.”
The attitudes, contributions and leadership of all four seniors have been essential in creating the mentally tough team attitude that Wagner, Momeyer and Pontillo all described as team strengths. “We are always the toughest of the two teams — both physically and mentally,” Momeyer said. “Nothing shakes us and we refuse to get pushed around. Toughness, you can’t teach that.”
For the past three years, Pontillo has found a family within his team. “Being a member of a such a close-knit group has afforded me the opportunity to gain from unparalleled experiences,” he said.
Perhaps, if the team can turn its toughness and regular season domination into postseason success, Pontillo and the rest of seniors will make some new memories before they move on.