The West Chester men’s soccer team split a pair of difficult matches in the Erie area this weekend, beating Mercyhurst on Friday, but losing to Gannon one day later.
On Saturday, West Chester faced off against Gannon, who is ranked as the No. 4 team in all of Division II. While West Chester fought hard and played tough, Gannon was able to break a scoreless tie in the 78th minute when they finally got a shot past Rams goalkeeper Garrett Bleiler, who was spectacular throughout the match.
Facing a top team like Gannon, the Rams would have been satisfied to leave the match with a 0-0 draw, but Gannon somehow found a goal and took all three points.
Shots were just about even throughout the match, with West Chester recording 15 and Gannon taking 13.
The loss snapped an unbeaten start to the conference portion of the Rams’ season. West Chester had won two and tied one in its first three PSAC games.
While the loss to Gannon on Saturday was disappointing, it came just one day after a solid win over Mercyhurst, meaning the Rams were able to leave Erie, where both teams are located, with their heads held high.
On Friday, the Golden Rams put on what may have been their best performance of the season so far, defeating Mercyhurst in a back-and-forth contest that saw West Chester win, 2-1.
West Chester got off to the best possible start when Taylor Eisenhauer scored on a header after Roberto Silva had delivered in a well-placed corner kick in the fourth minute.
Mercyhurst would answer, though, when 10 minutes later Alex Manea managed to beat Bleiler. But West Chester would reclaim the lead once again in the 21st minute when Brett Snyder found an open Christian Benner, who buried what would go on to be the winning goal.
Although Benner’s goal would eventually be the winner, West Chester came close to blowing the lead a second time. In the second half, Mercyhurst was awarded a penalty shot after an infraction in the box by a West Chester player. But Bleiler came up huge, stopping the ensuing penalty kick to preserve the 2-1 lead.
Bleiler put on a masterful performance throughout the entire second half, making save after save on other plays, not just on the penalty kick.
West Chester managed to hold on for the win, its second in three PSAC games. The Golden Rams did not win a single PSAC game in all of 2011, but this year, they already have two.
While they ended up falling to Gannon on Saturday, the team still has a solid seven points from four conference games, good enough for third in the PSAC. The two teams that sit above West Cheser are none other than Gannon and Mercyhurst.
“It’s great. That’s an eight to 10 hour drive [to Erie],” said senior midfielder Jake Maxwell. “You’re tired, you’re bored, you just don’t feel like playing, but we showed up, and we played, and we took down a very good team. Mercyhurst is not an easy win.”
“We got that first goal, that’s so important. It’s something we’ve been focusing on as a team, and I think going forward as a team that’s huge for us. We’re finally getting those confidence wins under the belt. I think it’s only up from there,” Maxwell said.
With two wins already in the bag, the Golden Rams have already earned more PSAC points than they did all of last season. Such a turnaround is huge for the team’s confidence, regardless of the close loss to Gannon, who is one of the best teams in the entire country.
“Especially after last year, where we were one of the only, if not the only, West Chester teams to end up with zero wins in the PSAC,” said Maxwell. “Coming into this year, obviously we’ve been motivated to make ourselves known. We have a bunch of seniors and talented undergraduates, so we’ve been working hard and finally getting the results that we deserve as a team.”
While the team would probably like to continue this strong run of form in conference, it will actually get a break from PSAC action in this upcoming week. The Rams will first host Philadelphia University on Thursday night at Farrell Stadium. Then, they will host Nyack College on Saturday afternoon. The team will resume PSAC action the following week with a home game against Slippery Rock and an away match against Lock Haven.
Joey Samuel is a fourth-year student majoring in political science and Spanish. He can be reached at JS719745@wcupa.edu.