The Elizabethtown College men’s soccer team expects success every year. The coaches expect it, the fans expect it and, most importantly, the players themselves expect it. This idea of success is far from new for a program that has won double-digit games in 37 of the last 39 seasons. Therefore, the mentality hasn’t changed for this year’s team heading into the new-look Landmark Conference.
The Blue Jays are coming off a 10-win, six-loss and four-tie season in which they secured the number two seed in the Commonwealth Conference Playoffs. Etown hosted Alvernia University in the semifinals and escaped with a 3-0 win in penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw over 110 minutes of action.
With a historic Lycoming College victory over top-seed and eventual National Champion, Messiah College, the Blue Jays hosted the Warriors for the Commonwealth Conference Championship. Once again, Etown’s team found itself in a penalty kick shootout, but this time on the losing side of a 5-3 result. Lycoming took home the championship and left the Blue Jays to set their sights on the Landmark Conference.
This year’s team still has the taste of that bitter defeat to Lycoming as the Blue Jays return 15 upperclassmen, including 10 seniors.
“After the loss last year, the team felt cheated. We thought we were the better team and deserved to have won the game,” senior Andrew Sandridge said. “That’s the way the game is sometimes, though. We moved on, and all of us used that as our motivation all through the off-season to stay in shape and be ready to go this year. Everyone remembered how it felt to walk off that field last November, and everyone worked really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again this year.”
Sandridge and fellow senior David Boretti return as Etown’s top two scorers from last year’s squad. Also returning for the Blue Jays are All-Commonwealth Conference Honorable Mention selections Martin Fevre and Rodrigo Barrera, both juniors. Seniors Kyle Fowler, Dylan Sisler, Kristopher Davis and junior Jack Rudy round out the eight starters returning from last year’s team. The experienced Blue Jays were picked fourth in this year’s pre-season poll released by the Landmark Conference.
A scrimmage earlier this preseason against Rutgers-Camden University gave the Blue Jays the right mindset of just how much the team can achieve this season.
The Blue Jays took that confidence into their season-opener against the Gilmore Alumni Class at Rowan University, N.J. Etown took on the Profs in the opening game on August 29. Votto put the Blue Jays on the board early in the game, scoring in the sixth minute to give the visitors the 1-0 lead. That lead stood up until late in the game when Rowan’s Garret Hoagland found the back of the net in the 86th minute to tie the game at one each and force overtime.
Both teams had an opportunity to end the game early in overtime but couldn’t convert. In the 95th minute, junior Cal Graziano sent a cross into the box that found first-year Scott Hess, who scored the game-winning goal for the Blue Jays. The season-opening win was the first for Etown since the 2011 season when they defeated Baldwin-Wallace in overtime by a score of 3-2.
The next night, Etown took on The College of New Jersey, a team that had lost its opening game to Messiah, 2-1. On this night, not much seemed to go the way of the Blue Jays as the Lions scored three unanswered goals to win 4-1.
Down 1-0 late in the second half, sophomore Brent Batory scored off a cross from Fevre to tie the game at one. Two minutes later, TCNJ answered when Etown scored their own goal to put the Lions back on top 2-1 into the half. A goal in the 60th minute and a goal late in the second half for TCNJ put the game out of reach. Despite the three-goal difference, Etown held a 14-12 advantage in shots for the game.
This past weekend, Etown hosted the Brothers Pizza Blue Jay/Red Devils Classic, but rain forced the opening-round game against Ithaca College to be cancelled. The Blue Jays took on DeSales University on Sunday afternoon in their first home game of the season.
Hess tallied his team-leading second goal of the season early in the fifth minute of action to give Etown the 1-0 lead over the Bulldogs. His goal, off an assist from Rudy, would have stood up as the game-winning goal, the second of his career in just three games. However, DeSales took advantage of a corner kick in the 89th minute as James Breuning found the back of the net to tie the game at one. The official time of the goal was 89:53, 67 seconds away from the final whistle.
The Blue Jays had plenty of chances to widen their one-goal lead in the second half, but multiple shots from Hess and Sandridge hit the goal post. DeSales also had its chances to tie the game earlier than the 89th minute, as Boretti stopped a shot from a Bulldog player after senior goalkeeper Justin Signora came out to contest a corner and left the net vulnerable.
The two teams played two 10-minute overtime periods, but neither team could break through for a second goal. After 110 minutes of game time, Etown and DeSales settled for a 1-1 draw. Etown tallied its first 20-shot game since Oct. 19 of last season, but were only able to score one goal.
Next up for the Blue Jays will be the Smith-Herr Boot Game against rival Franklin & Marshall University. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday at Ira R. Herr Field. The two teams played to a scoreless draw last season at Franklin & Marshall.
With a 1-1-1 record through three contests this season, the Blue Jays will look to get hot before they start conference games in a couple of weeks.
“[The] team goal is simple. Anything short of a conference championship and making a run in NCAAs will be a disappointing season,” Sandridge said. “There is no other way to put it. It doesn’t matter who we beat or what our record is come the end of the season. If we aren’t conference champions and in NCAAs, then we underperformed.”