Two weekends ago, the Yellowjacket men’s soccer team stepped on the field as one of the final 16 teams in the National Championship tournament for the first time in school history.

Their opponent was not as unfamiliar with such a setting. The Messiah College Falcons had won the last three National Championships and have won five since 2000. Unfortunately for the ‘Jackets, the more experienced team reigned supreme in the sectional matchup, as the Falcons cruised to a 6-0 victory. The win propelled Messiah into the Elite 8, where it took on and defeated Montclair State University in the Sectional Championships.

Freshman midfielder Nick Thompson led the Falcons in the win against UR, scoring three goals, including the game-winner in the 39th minute of play. The score was a header off a cross by senior defender Eric Frey. Thompson finished third on the team in goals for the season with 10.

Messiah scored next in the opening minutes of the second half. This time it was Thompson connecting on a pass from the Falcons’ leading goal scorer, senior midfielder Patrick Lenehan. Six minutes later, it was freshman forward Geoff Pezon putting the Falcons up 3-0 on an unassisted goal.

Thompson completed his hat trick in the 62nd minute, putting Messiah up 4-0 on a pass from senior midfielder Kai Kasiguran. Freshman forward Sean Cunningham scored unassisted in the 82nd minute to make it 5-0, and junior forward Mike Rinker completed the scoring off a pass from sophomore forward Calvin Todd in the 88th minute.

Messiah outshot UR 15-6 and held a 6-5 advantage in corner kicks. Sophomore goalie Michael Peacock had four stops for UR, while Falcon goalie Jared Clugston only had to stop one shot. The Messiah defense also cleared a ball of the goal line during the course of the game.

The loss capped what was otherwise a very successful season for the Yellowjackets. UR finished 15-3-2, was 6-0-1 in the University Athletic Association and ended the season ranked fifth in the nation.

Seven ‘Jackets were named to the All-UAA team. Senior defenders Nick Mikolenko and Eric Meister, senior midfielder Bobby Milenovici and Peacock were named First Team All-UAA. Senior midfielder Jeremy Mann was noted as Second Team All-UAA. Junior forward Sean Hantes and senior midfielder Matt Sulkin received Honorable Mentions.

In addition to player recognition, head coach Chris Apple and the UR coaching staff were named coaching staff of the year. This was Apple’s third time as UAA Coach of the Year, with his other two times coming in 2002 and 2005.

Eight different ‘Jackets players were either named UAA Player of the Week or to the Honor Roll during the course of the season. Peacock was recognized six times for his defensive play, while sophomore midfielder J.J. Dennstedt was recognized twice for his offensive play.

The future looks good for the ‘Jackets. Four of their top five leading scorers will be returning next year, including scoring leader freshman midfielder Steve Welles. UR will also return Peacock, who posted six shutouts on the season and had a goals-against average of 0.51. On defense, the Yellowjackets will lose seniors Mikolenko and Meister, both of whom received All-UAA honors in three consecutive seasons, but will return starters sophomore Phil Proud and junior Jeremy Gaden. Overall, UR will be returning six starters and two players who, coming off the bench, were key to the Yellowjackets’ success.

Messiah advanced to play Montclair State, whom they beat 1-0. They then traveled to Florida to take on the first-ranked Trinity College of Texas in the Final Four. Here, the Falcons met their match and where downed 1-0. Messiah finished their season 21-3-0.

Trinity squared off against Middlebury College, who had beaten Loras College in the semifinals to advance to the championship game. The two teams played to a stalemate in the regulation and the two overtimes, meaning that the title would come down to penalty kicks. Middlebury got the best in that department, prevailing 4-3 to become the Division III National champions.

This was the third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for UR, who can look forward to next year, when the team plans to continue to improve and use experience to make another title run.

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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