by Korey Hope
Whitworth men’s soccer team clinched the 2012 Northwest Conference title, despite losing two of its final three games of the regular season.
In the first game, the Pirates faced a Willamette team with five conference losses on the year, including one to the Whitworth earlier in the season. The Pirates needed only one more conference victory in their final three match-ups to clinch the NWC crown. Willamette’s Trevor Jensen led the Bearcats with two assists and a goal, his eighth and fifth on the season, respectively.
Jensen wasted no time putting the Pirates under pressure, assisting teammate Tyler Yates to his third goal on the year in the 27th minute, putting Willamette up 1-0. Jensen put the Bearcats up 2-0 all by himself just after halftime, firing a shot from about 30 yards out and beating Pirate senior goalkeeper Kyle Novak. Although holding a 2-0 lead, Willamette did not show they were a second half team this year, allowing 25 goals in the second period of games as opposed to only three in the first period of games.
The Bucs contributed to that fact, storming back for two goals in the second half, sending the game to overtime. Sophomore forward Robby Ubben scored just after the hour mark on an assist by freshman defender Spencer Wolfe. Junior defender Balin Larson had the second goal for the Pirates, slotting away a penalty kick in the 82nd minute of play.
Willamette pushed on in the first period of overtime and found the game-winner from Austin Jacobson, assisted by Jensen. Although the Pirates lost for the first time this season, the bigger picture still allowed two more chances for the Bucs to clinch the 2012 NWC crown.
The second to last game of the season slated Whitworth against the Linfield Wildcats (7-9, 5-7 NWC). The Pirates faced off against Linfield in their first regular season game of the year, beating the Wildcats 2-0. Last weekend’s match saw a closely contested game throughout, with Linfield matching Whitworth’s shots on goal. However, the Bucs’ pressure on the Wildcat defense and a pass from junior defender Andrew Flint opened up a shot opportunity for freshman forward Karl Muelheims, who shot it low to the near post, beating Linfield goalkeeper Scott Goodman in the 50th minute.
“[Flint] played it to me and my initial thought was to dump it in the box,” Muelheims said. “But once I pushed the ball past the defender I felt like I had time to get a shot off, so I took it and it went near post low corner.”
The goal turned out to be enough for the Conference title, as senior goalkeeper Kyle Novak and the Pirates’ defense posted their 13th shutout of the year. It was the first time Whitworth won the Northwest Conference title outright since the 2009 season.
The final game of the season for Whitworth sent the Pirates to face Whitman in Walla Walla, Wash. Head coach Sean Bushey did not play a single regular starter in the game, giving less-experienced players more time on the field. And even yet, the Bucs still put up a fight, coming back from a one goal deficit to tie the game with less than 15 minutes remaining.
Sophomore midfielder Tyler Clarke saved the day for the Pirates, putting away a breakaway chance assisted by senior forward Kekoa Mountcastle.
But Whitman was not to be denied, seizing the game-winner just four and a half minutes into the overtime period, on a header by substitute Joe Virden that beat the back-up junior goalkeeper Nate Bell. Bell made just his fourth appearance of the season, and made eight saves throughout the match.
The Pirates are now preparing for a postseason run, with their first round game in the 2012 NCAA Division III Tournament being hosted by Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, this Saturday Nov. 10. The Bucs will face Mississippi College, the American Southwest Conference champions with a 12-5-2 record on the year.
Contact Korey Hope at firstname.lastname@example.org.