Soccer team takes last win
Riding the wave of confidence, the Eagles performed their best on the final games of the season
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The Sierra Nevada College men’s soccer team ended its second season with two winning games leaving the team with high morale, even though the overall season presented challenges for the players and coach James Barlow.
The Eagles won the last conference game against the Pioneers of Pacific Union College 3-0 on the opponent’s field on Oct. 30, and brought home another “W” against California State University-Maritime on Oct. 20, with a score of 1-0, signed in Vallejo, California. “In the last three games our team was tactically more organized compared to the rest of the season. In two of these games we scored before the opponent, and that gave us more confidence to keep the intensity during the match,” said Joao Mendes, center back from Brazil, his first semester at SNC.
The team placed seventh out of 11 teams in the Cal-Pac conference, winning three games and losing seven. Looking back at the season, Barlow makes his analysis with the average age of the team in mind. “We have a very young team, the youngest team in the conference. Throughout the season we got better and better and the players understood the intensity, speed of play, and started to eliminate mistakes,” said Barlow.
As in most sports, when athletes move up a level, they initiate a learning curve that is not easy. According to Barlow, this is what the team went through, since 67 percent of players are in their first year of college. The average age of Marymount College, currently the leader of the conference, is 26 years old, while the average age of the SNC team is 19, according to Barlow, “and that makes a huge difference.” Freshman Antonio Perez is the puts up the most goals for SNC team and although the statistics show good things, he noticed the difference between college and high school soccer. “All the players are stronger, faster and better. It is more physical and very tactical and made it a challenge, but the team around me helped a lot by creating space for me to work with. There is a lot of pride and passion playing in college, too,” said Perez.
The start of the season was characterized by a substantial lack of players eligible to compete, which forced the team to play the first games with less than 11 on the field. Part of the problem was a delayed process with NAIA, the entity that releases students the eligibility to play. In addition to that, “we had seven players in the preseason that ended up either being injured or not coming to SNC this season for financial reasons, but might come next season,” said Barlow. Among these seven, Ashtiano Sabio had to withdraw at the very last minute due to financial and scholarship misunderstandings. “SNC shouldn’t be promising things when they are not certain that those very things will even follow through. They should assess ahead of time what they can give in terms of scholarship as opposed to what they can’t,” said Sabio.
In its second year since its foundation, SNC soccer still faces issues in the number of players, which amount to 15 in total. The best four teams of the conference, which are currently playing playoff games, have between 24 and 34 players in their rosters.“The base number of players was too little this year,” said team captain Juan Felipe Luque, who pointed at the numbers as the biggest challenge of this season. Mendes agreed. “If we would have had more players in the roster, the season would be different. We had a lot of players in positions they were not used to and it was difficult when someone was injured or suspended for a red card,” said Mendes. Another difficulty he noted was having practices with only 15 players. “We couldn’t scrimmage or simulate the game, and that was something prohibitive.”
The Eagles also faced problems playing home games where they did not win. “When you are playing at home there is a lot more pressure and distraction involved, but when we are travelling, the whole focus is on playing that game. Once again, I go back to the youth of the team,” said Barlow.
As players dive back into their studies and enjoy time off from practices and travels, Barlow is already looking to next season. “I would like to finish somewhere in the top five next year, and possibly make the playoff. Sometimes it’s hard for players to see they are improving even if they are not winning games, but the improvement is there,” he said.
One of the team assets is goalkeeper Jacob Pranke, who ends his season as the second in the conference for number of saves, according to NAIA website. “The stats are cool to see on paper but in reality soccer is a team sport,” Pranke said. “We win or lose together, and allowing the opponent to take a lot of shots really hurt us this year. We are a young team with a lot of potential. We just need to improve on a couple things and next season will be a whole different story.”