There is an adage in sports that says, “It doesn’t matter what happens all year as long as you win your last game.” As the UR men’s soccer team stood on the frozen tundra of Fauver Stadium Nov. 17, all that mattered was that they were champions. All of the ups and downs, personal conflicts, heartaches and joys of the season were put aside as the Yellowjackets celebrated their third consecutive Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship.
On Nov. 16, UR faced Keuka College with a berth in the ECAC final at stake. The Yellowjackets rose to the challenge with a resounding 3-0 victory. Junior captain Ben Cross found the back of the net twice and freshmen Colin Fernie continued his goal scoring tear with his fourth in four games. Junior midfielder Nick Wheeler supplied the ammunition for the goals, bringing his assist total to 10 on the season. The game also featured a cameo appearance by senior defender Paul Lehmann. Lehmann suffered an ACL injury in early October and was forced to watch his team from the sidelines. He asked head coach Apple for one more game and with a few minutes left he went in to savor the victory with his teammates.
The final game was a rematch of last year’s championship match with UR taking on SUNY Plattsburgh. The Yellowjackets had a point to prove after being left out of the NCAA tournament field and responded well. Senior Matt Lilienfeld got the ball rolling in the fourth minute and put the finishing touch on his career with a solid strike in the 82nd minute. In between, senior Alex Hass, a player known for his delicacy with the ball, uncharacteristically ripped the back of the net with a blast from the edge of the box. Lilienfeld’s goals brought his season total to six, putting him right behind team leader freshman Nate Micklos, who had eight.
The two victories were the last of a string of six, with which the Yellowjackets finished their season. Four of these six victories were shutouts, a tribute to the defense – most importantly to goalkeepers Brian Minehan and Aaron Bernstein. Minehan finished the season with eight shutouts and a goals-against-average of 0.74.
One of the underlying stories of the tournament was the play of Nick Wheeler. As an outside midfielder, recognition is often hard to come by, but his hard work did not go unrewarded. His tireless running on the flanks and relentless play earned him the tournament’s “Most Valuable Player” award.
The team also garnered many individual accolades. Ben Cross, Nate Micklos and Brian Minehan were named to the All-UAA Team. Junior defenders Nate Rimke and Brandon Laws were named to the Second Team. Senior forward Jacques Appleby finished his career with 36 goals, placing him as one of UR’s all-time leaders.
The team finished with a record of 14-4-2, ranked second in the region and 15th in the country. Coach Apple described this season as “one of the best in school history.”
The team tied the record for wins in a season. “The seniors have left big shoes to fill, but I do not doubt for a second that the underclassmen will be up to the task,” Apple said.
White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.