For the Slippery Rock University men’s soccer team, this past weekend was one of highs and lows. The team squared off against a pair of solid squads to open Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) play, splitting the two results with a come-from-behind victory Friday afternoon and a trouncing Sunday.
First up, the Green and White entertained the Lock Haven Bald Eagles on Friday at James Egli Field. The visitors entered the contest undefeated in conference play, at the top of the PSAC table, and riding their best seven-game start to a season since 2011.
“We watched quite a bit on Lock Haven, and what we saw from them was that they were very physical. They’re an organized team. Very athletic and speedy,” SRU interim head coach Kevin Wilhelm said. “But we thought we could really get at them in the midfield, that we’d be able to connect passes and draw their fullbacks in and then be able to play around them.”
The opposition got out to a quick start, as leading scorer Beckham Sibiski took advantage of a second ball and connected with the back of the net in the 11th minute.
A Rock reply came little over six minutes later. A George Oakley free kick bounced through the legs of a few players and found the feet of freshman midfielder Omar Bangura, who proceeded to strike his first collegiate goal and balance the board at one. Oakley’s assist was also his first of this campaign.
Twenty more minutes passed before the game’s third goal was scored, this time by SRU sophomore midfielder Cory Olix, who was making his first start of the season. The tally, which was set up by a pass from sophomore forward Hayden Seifert, gave The Rock a 2-1 lead to carry into the intermission.
The Bald Eagles began the second period by getting off two shots, one of which was blocked and one that missed wide.
SRU matched those two second-half shots moments later, each Bangura and senior defender Kenton Keeslar being saved by LHU goalkeeper Camden Cook, who boasted an 0.61 goals allowed average coming in.
In the 55th minute, however, Bangura found himself in the scoring fold again, assisting on junior forward Luke Picchi’s team-leading third goal of the season. For the remainder of the game, Rock goalie Matt Hunsberger needed to defend his goal only once to keep the score 3-1.
Of his team’s seemingly unfazed response to its early deficit, Wilhelm said, “It could have been 3-nothing or we could have been 3-nothing up, our mentality doesn’t change anymore. We’ve become, mentally, a much [stronger] group. When things don’t go our way, we still find a way to get through it. When things do go our way, it doesn’t change our attitude.”
After scoring his first goal as a member of The Rock, Bangura spoke of his adjustment to college play.
“It’s been hard, but at the same time, in a good way. Because coming in as a freshman, you’ve got a few seniors to push you through it or help you out if you’re having a bad time, to tell you things will be easy as time goes on. [They stress] to keep doing your thing and go as hard as you can, because nothing comes easy.”
As he and The Rock were pulling out their victory over Lock Haven, their next opponent was recording its third straight PSAC win by way of shutout, over Shippensburg. That theme carried over into the visit to Gannon on Sunday afternoon.
Wilhelm’s statement that his young team’s play on the field still had a lot to be desired was characterized by a loss at the hands of the Golden Knights. The Rock again let up a goal in the early stages to an opponent’s leading scorer, as Sam Thornton put one in past Hunsberger in the seventh minute before following up with another exactly 22 minutes later.
GU scored both early and late in the second half, making the score an embarrassing 4-0 before all was said and done. In their four games against conference opponents, the Golden Knights have scored 12 goals while conceding none.
The team will most likely turn to film evaluation to bounce back.
Said Wilhelm, “They just have to see themselves and they realize that sometimes the result on the scoreboard is a little different than the productivity on the field…I kind of hold that carrot over their head just a little bit enough to let them know they are improving, but we still have progress we need to make.”
Wilhelm and The Rock will hope to re-enter the win column this Wednesday in a road matchup at Seton Hill, who has yet to suffer a losing decision in its first seven games.