After an inexplicable loss to local rival St. John Fisher, which coach Chris Apple attributed to several bad breaks, UR men’s soccer rebounded by upsetting Otterbein College – the nation’s third-ranked squad – 2-1 in thrilling fashion on Saturday afternoon in Ohio.

The Yellowjackets coupled the win over the homestanding Cardinals -a finalist in last season’s Division III national tournament – with a dominating 4-0 victory over the College of Notre Dame a day later to capture the Otterbein tournament.

“We have a confident group that is very mentally strong and full of experience,” Apple said in reference to his team that returns seven seniors from last year’s squad, “but beating a powerhouse like Otterbein will definitely add to our confidence.”

The first half was an up and down affair that was dominated by possession. Neither squad scored, but Apple felt that his team slightly controlled the tempo of play. The scene was markedly different in the second half, as UR returned to the field revitalized.

Sophomore Gary Stom made an impressive run down the right wing and fed senior defender Mike Springer with an even better cross. Springer headed the ball home, giving UR a 1-0 lead with only two minutes elapsed in the half. Otterbein equalized in the 53rd minute when All-American Angelo Manzo broke behind the defense and rocketed a shot into the upper corner of the goal. UR senior goalkeeper Brian Minehan valiantly deflected the shot, but it hit the crossbar and trickled in.

Undeterred, the Yellowjacket attack mounted. Stom netted the winner after UR aesthetically treated Otterbein to a passing clinic – stringing seven passes together in a row. The University Athletic association and Eastern College Athletic Association player of the week was the recipient of a crafty 1-2 exchange with freshman forward Brian Tuohy and gave UR the lead for good at 57:59.

“I was very impressed with the resolve of our team,” Apple said. “The other team got angry after we took the lead and I liked how we responded quickly once the game was tied.”

The last 15 minutes were nail-biting as the Cardinals tried frantically to send the game into overtime. Their best chance occurred with nearly two minutes remaining as Manzo beat the defense and went one on one against Minehan. This time, however, Minehan was up to the task, as his sprawling, finger-tipped deflection landed around the post.

“I have seen him [Minehan] make a number of great saves since I’ve been here, so I wasn’t surprised that he made it,” Apple said. ” That was the best save I’ve seen him make in such a crucial situation, though.”

Minehan’s save may turn out to pay immeasurable dividends later down the road if UR needs an at large bid for the NCAA tournament. “It was a great win for us and a great win for our region,” Minehan said.

Sunday’s contest against the College of Notre Dame was considerably less exciting as UR took a 2-0 lead in the first half and never looked back. Stom had the game winner for the second day in a row, scoring off a feed from sophomore Nate Micklos in the 12th minute. He also assisted on sophomore Greg Colavecchia’s goal in the 39th minute.

In the second half, senior Nick Wheeler buried his first goal of the year in the 59th minute, while Micklos closed the scoring several minutes later off of a free kick by senior Brandon Laws.

Although it may be easy for UR to shift its attention to St. Lawrence – another 2002 Final Four participant that the Yellowjackets face on Tuesday – Apple does not want his team to overlook a SUNY Geneseo squad that comes to Fauver Stadium on Friday.

“I told my team that I don’t want any mention of St. Lawrence until the Geneseo game is over,” Apple said.

That may be easier said than done as UR’s frustrating results against the Saints since 2000 could be regarded as an omen for the team’s postseason standing.

Two tough one-goal losses in 2000 and 2001 and a tie in a contest that the Yellowjackets thoroughly dominated were especially poignant, as UR has narrowly missed out on an at-large bid in each of the last three seasons. Had UR defeated St. Lawrence, the Yellowjackets, not the Saints would have likely received an invitation to the tourney.

This year, UR hopes to take the decision out of the hands of the committee.

“We have made it our team goal to win the conference [UAA] this year,” Apple said. This would give his squad an automatic berth in the tournament.

Rybaltowski can be reached at mrybaltowski@campustimes.org.



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