After three years of frustration, men’s soccer has never been closer to reaching its goal of qualifying for the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
The Yellowjackets took a major step in the right direction over the weekend by defeating second-ranked Emory University, 2-0 on Senior Day at Fauver Stadium Sunday.
“That was easily the best team we’ve played all season,” Head Coach Chris Apple said, whose team has previously faced off against top-five teams in Otterbein College and St. Lawrence University.
The Yellowjackets were able to defeat the Eagles largely because of two goals at the beginning of each half that allowed them to control the pace of play.
Senior Nick Wheeler, who was responsible for both goals, sent a corner kick across the box to sophomore striker Nate Micklos, who in turn found senior centerback Mike Springer for a header just two minutes into the game.
Leading 1-0 at the half, UR scored its second goal of the game even quicker. Wheeler broke down the right wing and fed a cross to Micklos, who volleyed it past Emory goalkeeper Rohit Agrawal.
“I knew what he’s capable of doing and he’s been doing it,” Apple said of Wheeler.
Another main factor in the win was the performance of the UR defense that held Emory, a team who averaged a little over than three goals a game scoreless. Apple praised the performance of defender Drew Murphy, who blanketed Emory star Matthew Levine throughout the game.
“It was a great way to go out,” senior goalkeeper Brian Minehan said of his final home game. “We beat the second ranked team in the nation handily. It should have been 3-0.”
Minehan is two shutouts away from setting the school record.
The win was crucial for the Yellowjackets, considering Emory had already tied Washington University in St. Louis a week earlier.
UR is now tied for first in the University Athletic Association with Carnegie Mellon University at 3-1, as result of a crushing 2-1 loss last Friday night. Three games remain for the Yellowjackets in the UAA, all on the road.
“Both teams are going to have to win out [if they want to win the conference],” Apple said. “We think that one of the teams is going to be us.”
The win was the 50th for this year’s senior class. Minehan, Wheeler, Springer, Rimmke and Ross D’Eredita all played their final home game as proud members of one of the most successful classes in Yellowjacket history.
UR’s quest to win the UAA would have been much easier had they been able to prevail over Carnegie Mellon two days before the Emory game.
The Tartans tipped in a goal off a long pass with just two minutes remaining to break a 1-1 tie. Senior defender Nate Rimmke responded by heading a throw-in by sophomore Gary Stom into the crossbar. The rebound wounded up on the feet of sophomore Damian Hallat, who was stopped by the Carnegie Mellon goalkeeper. Wheeler scored the ellowjackets’ lone goal on a penalty kick in the middle of the first.
Despite facing three more UAA opponents on the road, Apple thinks his team will be able to run the table.
“The group is more confident than ever and I’m confident we’ll do it,” Apple said.
Before the Yellowjackets can get started against their remaining UAA foes, they must first take on Elmira College on the road this Saturday.
The squad will then have a week off before a defining trip to the Midwest. UR will face off against Washington University on Oct. 31 and University of Chicago on Nov. 2. The Yellowjackets final UAA game will come against Case Western Reserve University Nov. 8.
Two wins are a must, and with Chicago and Case Western occupying the bottom two spots in the UAA, it is a good possibility. If UR can pick up three wins they will be assured a trip to nationals, unless Carnegie Mellon wins their remaining games – one of which is against fourth ranked Emory.
Rybaltowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.