Lions optimistic after first conference victory

The College’s men’s soccer team scored two goals for the first time in over a month to defeat Rutgers University-Newark last Wednesday and stay in contention for a playoff bid.

The win was the first for the Lions in New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) play. The Lions will have to win all their remaining conference games to make the NJAC playoffs.

Unfortunately, the Lions could not build on the momentum when they traveled to Grantham, Pa. on Saturday to take on Messiah College in non-conference play. The Falcons, ranked ninth nationally in Division III, overpowered the Lions en route to a 5-0 win.

On Senior Night at Lions Stadium, it was two of the College’s younger players who stepped up to end the team’s eight game winless streak.

The Lions thoroughly controlled the play in the first half before sophomore forward Matt Luber finally converted at 34:33 on a centering pass from sophomore midfielder Marc Cino.

Cino acknowledged that scoring first was a huge relief for the team, in light of its recent struggles to find the back of the net.

“Scoring first always takes off the pressure, especially this year because we haven’t been able to score recently,” Cino said. “The team was much looser after the goal.”

Senior goalkeeper Rich Adams started the game and had to make only two saves. After a halftime ceremony honoring the departing seniors, senior Shawn Mecchi finished the game and made two saves to preserve the shutout.

“I’m very grateful that Rich and I were given the opportunity to go out on top and finish our last home stand alongside our friends with a shutout and a victory,” Mecchi said.

Head coach George Nazario stressed the importance of letting his seniors enjoy their last home game at the College.

“The game isn’t as important as the experience in college,” Nazario said. “These kids give a lot for academics and athletics and they deserve to play on Senior Night.”

The Lions once again carried the play in the second half, though the outcome was not determined until the final moments. Cino clinched the win when he added a goal of his own with just 3:27 left in the game on a pass from freshman midfielder Kolja Mueller.

In the Lions’ game against Messiah College, the Falcons took an early lead when junior midfielder David McClellan converted on a rebound for his team-leading 14th goal of the season just 10 minutes into the match.

Lions freshman goalie Michael Cladek played well, holding the Falcons scoreless over the rest of the half. Senior goalie Rich Adams entered the game at halftime but did not have the same luck against the vaunted Falcons offense.

Messiah came out strong to start the half, stunning the Lions with three quick goals.

Sophomore forward Tim Stello got the scoring started at 51:02. Just 20 seconds later, the Falcons struck again with a goal from freshman midfielder Kai Kasiguran.

At 54:32 junior midfielder Bryan Mohney scored off of a McClellan cross to complete the three-goal run. In just over three minutes, the Falcons had put themselves up comfortably, 4-0.

The game remained that way until sophomore forward Dan Wagner completed the scoring with just over 10 minutes remaining.

The loss will not hurt the Lions in their bid to make the NJAC playoffs. Currently ranked seventh in the NJAC, the Lions still have two conference games remaining to move up into the sixth and final playoff position.

The Lions travel to Jersey City to take on New Jersey City University today in their final non-conference match of the season. The Lions play their final two conference games away at William Paterson University and Kean University.

The final game of the year is shaping up to be the biggest, as Kean currently holds the 6th position in the NJAC, with just one more conference win than the College.

Despite the loss Saturday, Cino says the men are still confident that they cannot only make the tournament, but also do very well in it.

“We’re pretty confident,” Cino said. “I think everyone believes that we can take care of these last two NJAC games and we know that if we get into the conference tournament we can beat any of those teams.”