In an exciting weekend of lengthy games, the Trinity men’s soccer team successfully defended their Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) title. The team entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed due to their outstanding play in the regular season. Given their seeding, the Tiger teams were awarded a first round bye and began play on Saturday at Southwestern University.
In the tournament semifinal round, the Tigers were faced with a challenging matchup against the Texas Lutheran Bulldogs(TLU). The last time these teams met was in the regular-season where Trinity won in overtime after a goal by sophomore Jacob Hallenberger.
Going into the conference game, junior goalkeeper Blake Lieberman recognized the difficulty of the task ahead.
“Due to our recent history against TLU, we knew we had a tough but certainly winnable game ahead of us. We expected them to be pretty fired up, so our team went into the game with a great energy level,” Lieberman said.
History was repeated in the conference game, in which the Tigers won in overtime again. First-year Fraser Burns scored the winning goal after a clean pass from Sophomore Andrea Codispoti.
“It was really late into the second overtime. We had just won the ball back and were pushing up the field when I saw Fraser in the middle. I wanted to play the best ball I could, and he ended up finishing with a really difficult shot,” Codispoti said.
Burns attributes much of the credit back to Codispoti.
“Andrea has the ability to play any pass, so I made the run and my job was made easy in the end because of him. The feeling of scoring any goal is unbeatable, but what was important was our progression to the next round. Although I happened to be the one who scored the winning goal, the credit goes to the full squad for their efforts over the entire game,” Burns said.
With their victory against the Bulldogs, the Trinity team earned a spot in the conference final, where they faced the tournament host. Despite a distracting Southwestern crowd, Brady Johnston was able to convert his penalty shot in the 25th minute to bring the Tigers to a 1–0 lead. Trinity held that score until the end of the second half when Southwestern converted a penalty kick with just over a minute of regulation play remaining.
Both the Trinity and Southwestern teams had multiple shots during the overtime period, but all were saved. The resulting consequence was a penalty kick shootout in which Lieberman excelled at his position.
“The first kick-taker was Southwestern’s captain. I was standing on the line while he was staring at me, and I just stared back. After a bit, I started to smile because I felt ready. It was a crazy feeling, and I even joked with the referee about it,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman was certainly ready, as he made a crucial block to deny Southwestern the first shot. The momentum continued in Trinity’s favor after Quentin Van Der Lee was successful in his penalty kick attempt. On the second play, Southwestern missed after hitting the crossbar of the goal while Andrea Codispoti landed one in the back of the net to give Trinity a 2–0 lead.
“We were pretty confident going into [penalty kicks] because we have been practicing them for a while. Although there was a lot of pressure to perform, we knew how to do our jobs. Going second took some of the pressure off me because Blake had already saved two of Southwestern’s kicks,” Codispoti said.
Although Lieberman was passed on the third and fourth kicks, Sophomore Diego Gonzalez and Junior Brady Johnston were able to convert theirs to bring Trinity to a 4–2 win in the shootout. After Johnston’s impressive game-winner, the team stormed the field to celebrate together.
“When Brady scored the last penalty kick, we had a huge adrenaline rush. We went straight to the fans and celebrated. It was just a huge relief for the whole team, because winning the semifinal game in overtime and winning the final in penalty kicks was definitely stressful,” Lieberman said.
Johnston explained that this victory stood out to him even amongst his previous experiences in conference tournaments.
“Winning the game was an incredible feeling. We have won the tournament each of the three years I have been at Trinity, and somehow the feeling just keeps on getting better and better. It was amazing to see the team storming the field with complete excitement after such a nerve racking game,” Johnston said.
Johnston’s performance in the conference tournament earned him the title of SCAC Tournament Offensive Most Valuable Player. Earlier in the week, Johnston was also named SCAC Men’s Soccer Defensive Player of the Year.
“Individual accolades are obviously a pleasure to receive, but I would switch these accolades for a national championship in a heartbeat,” Johnston said.
Trinity’s conference victory is their seventh straight SCAC title. This win also grants them a direct spot in the Division III NCAA National Tournament, in which the Tigers will play their first round against Chapman University at home on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Lieberman is eager to rise to the occasion in the team’s first round game, but is also excited to compete at home again.
“I think we definitely have the best fanbase in the SCAC, if not the state. Our home crowd always has great energy, and I’m looking forward to seeing our fan turnout this weekend,” Lieberman said.