Coming into their match last Saturday night, the Men’s Soccer team had a combination of hope, celebration, and a heavy heart. On Friday night, the SoCon (Southern Conference) top seeded Furman Paladins were upset on a road trip to East Tennessee State University, giving them their second loss of the season in conference. This means, if the Spartans won on Saturday night against No. 3 seeded Mercer and their final two matches, they would win the top seed going into the SoCon Tournament. And with a shutout against the Bears, the team just needs two victories to seal up the number one seed.
Being senior night this past Saturday, the Blue and Gold celebrated their six departing seniors. Evan Rees, Noah DeAngelo, Ben Burdon, Christopher Reingen, Jacques Francois, and Corey Croegaert were all honored before the game for their time with the Spartans. To add to the emotions of the departing seniors, a moment of silence occurred prior to the match in remembrance to two passing family members of Spartan players. Coach Justin Maullin talked about the pregame emotions.
“It was high and low. We are sending off a great senior class and a low because we loss a couple family members of current players” said Maulin. “We wanted to dedicated this game and play in honor of them and it was pure joy to get a win for those two.”
For the game itself, well the pregame ceremonies were more interesting due to the complete domination of UNCG. The Spartans team played with a fiery aggression that completely overwhelmed the Bears of Wofford from the opening kick to the final buzzer. The first half saw the Spartans defense allow only two shots on goal and one corner kick, as the Spartans offense took nine shots on goal and five corner kicks. Despite this, the team still went into the halftime with a 0-0 tie game. With the strong play of the first half, Maullin gave his thoughts on the first half dominance and the offensive struggle.
“In the first half, we played very aggressive defensively and pressed Wofford higher up the field to not allow them to have any rhythm” he said. “But the system was not working from an attacking standpoint and we made some changes attacking wise in the second half.”
And oh how those changes opened up the Spartans offense. In the 59th minute of play, a penalty on Damieon Thomas in the box led to the first penalty kick for freshman midfielder Matteo Busio’s career. His kick hit the back of the net to give him his third goal of the season and his team 1-0 lead. Just seven minutes later, Jacques Francois sent a cross into Leeroy Maguraushe where he hit his team high sixth goal of the year, while Francois added a SoCon high seven assists and 17th point for the season.
At this point, a 2-0 score would be more than enough with the way the Spartans were playing. Freshman John Mulligan ended the game with four saves and recorded the third shutout of his young career. Still, the Spartans added one final goal in the 82th minute with freshman forward Matt Mattis taking a Matteo Busio pass in for his first collegiate goal and 3-0 lead.
With their victory, the Spartans had overtaken the Furman Paladins at the top of the SoCon. Coach Maullin talked about the value of being on top in the SoCon.
“It is very important. With the first or second seed, you are immediately in the final four. In this league, anybody can win” he said. “You have teams beating teams all the time it is that close. So you do not want to risk going into a quarterfinal game with your neck on the line.”
At this moment, the Blue and Gold have only a week left in the regular season before heading off to the SoCon Tournament in Johnson City, TN. If the team can win their final matches against the Virginia Military Institute and East Tennessee State, then the Spartans will clinch the top seed in the Conference and will have a bye in the quarterfinals. The last match against the two opponent saw the Spartans take a 7-0 victory in Virginia, while tying 1-1 against ETSU. The final match in Tennessee on Halloween night will likely be the most important match for the Spartans season.