Heat’s on as UAA soccer play starts
After mastering non-conference opponents, both the men’s and women’s soccer teams look ready to move on to tougher competition when University Athletic Association (UAA) Conference play starts Saturday.
“[Conference play is] much more competitive. We don’t have a conference tournament so every game is like a championship game,” said men’s head coach Arron Lujan.
With the men’s team at 7–1–1 and the women’s at 6–1–1, the two teams have followed similar paths to this point.
Early in the season, both teams were clearly outplaying their opponents, though they were struggling to put the ball in the net.
The men’s team won each of its first five victories of the season with scores of 1–0.
“It took our forwards and midfielders a little while to get in a flow with each other. The past couple of games, we’ve been firing on all cylinders,” said senior captain Ben Bryant.
Over the past three games, the men’s squad has scored a total of nine goals. While seniors Max Tassano and Chris Wysocki have led the way with totals of five and four goals respectively, first-year midfielder Tristan Lockwood has emerged as a somewhat surprising presence.
Lockwood, who has started eight of the nine games after senior midfielder Scott Gerfen suffered a season-ending leg injury, has totaled two goals and two assists so far.
“The upperclassmen have really accepted me, and made it easier for me to transition into an important playing role,” Lockwood said.
“Tristan comes from a good club team. I’m not that surprised [at his success].... He’s taken that opportunity and done a really good job with it,” Lujan said.
Ranked No. 15 in Division III, the women’s only loss of the season came against Johns Hopkins University, now ranked the No. 2 team in the country, in a game which the Tartans briefly led 2–0 before conceding three goals in a row.
“We know we are one of the best teams in the country, and we can play with one of the best teams in the country,” said women’s head coach Yon Struble.
So far, the team has convincingly handled its weaker non-conference opponents, keeping possession in the opponent’s half and using its speed and athleticism to create many goal-scoring opportunities.
Though they have struggled with their finishing touch, they scored four goals in their victory over Juniata College last Wednesday.
Asked if he was satisfied with his team’s goal-scoring, Struble was direct. “No. We always want to score more goals.”
Despite a rotating starting three up front, many players have stepped up, showing the team’s depth. Junior midfielder Amanda So started the season strong with three goals in the first three games, and five of her teammates have scored two or more goals.
The return of senior forward Alex Venegas from a preseason knee injury should also strengthen the women’s team’s attack.
Although the start of UAA play brings tougher play — “The games are battles,” Struble said — both teams are looking forward to the competition.
“I think the team looks great, and we’re all feeling really confident and pumped to go,” said graduate student goalkeeper Anna Albi.
At stake for both teams is the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament given to the conference winner.
“I’m excited. I think we can win the UAA this year,” Bryant said.
The UAA conference is so highly competitive and fields so many great teams, however, that many of them earn at-large bids into the tournament anyway. Teams that finish third or fourth in the conference can earn bids into the tournament.
“It’s such a competitive conference, and every team could win on any given day,” Struble said.
Both teams will play all seven other teams in their conferences once, starting this Saturday when both the University of Chicago men’s and women’s teams visit Pittsburgh.
The men will kick off first at 11:00 a.m. followed by the women at 1:30 p.m.
Last season, the men’s team lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament, while the women’s team lost in heartbreaking fashion in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks.
“We know that we’re kind of a new team, and we’re slowly but surely making new memories,” Albi said.