The Catamount men’s club soccer team traveled to Clemson last weekend to compete against 23 other teams in the seventh annual Spring Soccer Shindig.
The tournament was divided into six brackets, each containing four teams. WCU was unlucky to be drawn in one of the most talented brackets alongside UNC Chapel Hill, the University of Florida, and the University of South Carolina.
Western’s first match was scheduled against USC on Friday night, but due to USC’s withdrawal in the 11th hour, the three other teams in the bracket received forfeit points.
Saturday’s first match was against UNC Chapel Hill, whom Florida had beaten 3-2 the previous evening. The Catamounts knew that they must repeat Florida’s victory in order to progress to the later stages of the tournament. With this in mind, the head coach made some minor changes to the formation, allowing a more attacking style of play.
From the kickoff, Western Carolina dominated the UNC defense. Jermaine Jennings’ speed and hustle, which was present throughout the tournament, earned WCU a penalty kick just seconds into the match. Player-coach Mark Burgess made no mistake in slotting the ball past the Tar Heels’ keeper from the spot, putting the Catamounts 1-0 with his first kick of the match.
Western was unfortunate not to double this lead as the match continued in the same fashion as it had begun. UNC changed the outlook of the match just before the end of the half as some good play on their behalf led to a goal, knotting the match 1-1.
After a short break from the 90-degree heat, Western returned to the field ready to finish off the boys in blue. First, they would have to overcome the injuries to Jason Weden, who fractured his arm in a fall, and Josh Hydaker, who chipped a tooth and hurt his knee in a hard collision early in the second half.
Burgess once again proved to be the inspiration, scoring another spectacular goal. From all of 40 yards, Burgess was closer to the half-way line than to the goal when he unleashed a looping, curling left foot bomb as the ball bounced free in the midfield.
His shot cracked against the angle of the post and the crossbar with Carolina’s keeper beaten. The rebound off the woodwork struck the diving keeper and bounced into the vacant net.
Western once again squandered this fragile lead as Carolina hit back immediately and scrambled the ball home from a corner kick, again bringing the scores level at 2-2.
With only eight minutes to go, Western once again pushed forward in search of the win. Good work from Ben Endicott and Horacio Repetto presented David Woisetschlager with a chance which he coolly accepted. Once again WCU was in front and this time held on until the final whistle, winning 3-2 and taking maximum points from the game.
After a break of only 90 minutes between games, Western lined up once more to face the University of Florida. With both teams having identical records going into the match and only the top team from each bracket progressing, it was a win or bust situation for both teams.
The first half saw the Catamounts on the back foot soaking up constant pressure from UF. Jonas Hellie was once again outstanding at the heart of the Western defense, always being first to the ball and giving his all in every challenge. The few opportunities that Western did give up were confidently dealt with by the impressive Joel St. Vrain in Western’s goal. At the end of the half the match remained in a scoreless tie.
It was clear in the second half that WCU had run out of steam, and Florida’s continued domination led to three quick goals, dispelling any hopes of Western progressing to the semi-finals of the knockout stage.