On Saturday night at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, Mass. the...
Men’s soccer season comes to a bittersweet end, but there are no regrets
A nervous energy rippled through Simon Hinde before the biggest game of his career as a member of the Quinnipiac men’s soccer team.
First, it would mark an historic occasion: the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the team. Second, the opponent would be the University of Connecticut, a traditional power ranked 10th in the nation. And third, the game would be contested in front of 3,000 screaming fans, under the lights at UConn’s Joseph J. Morrone Stadium.
Yet as soon as his cleat struck the ball, Hinde’s pre-game jitters evaporated. He and the team came very close to pulling off an upset for the ages before falling to the heavily favored Huskies.
“We went head to head and with a team that’s just gone on to beat the No. 1 team the day before [our game] and could potentially be national champions,” Hinde said. “I’ll be proud for the rest of my life.”
His teammate, goalkeeper Borja Angoitia, agreed.
“You can’t go into the NCAA Tournament and then think, ‘What if you did this or what if you did that,’” Angoitia said. “So even though we lost and we’re disappointed … at the same time, we’re happy with the way things went.”
Hinde and his teammates qualified for the tournament by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title in their first year in the league. In 2012-13, their season ended with a loss in the semifinal game of the Northeast Conference tournament.
“It didn’t matter that it’s the first year in [the MAAC],” Hinde said. “It didn’t matter that we’ve lost seniors or that we won the regular season last year. We were going to come and win.”
The Bobcats pursued a treacherous non-conference schedule this year, with games against Providence College of The Big East and Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“We took it day by day, practice by practice, game by game, and by doing that, everything came full circle,” Strain-Goode said. “We had our lows at the beginning and we came together and did really well by the end, and everything fell into place.”
Despite only winning two games in non-conference play, when the Bobcats began their in-conference games, they approached and broke several program records, including most shutouts in a season (10). Quinnipiac led the league in shutouts, goals against average (0.67) and goals allowed (13).
With a record of 9-4-5 overall and 7-1-2 in the MAAC, the Bobcats shared the MAAC Regular Season Championship with Monmouth. The next step was the MAAC Semifinal.
The Bobcats battled through it all during their non-conference games and were prepared to face any situation – overtime, double overtime and penalty kicks alike.
They fought hard to avoid a repeat of last year’s heartbreaking season end at the NEC Semifinal, but scoreless overtime periods meant the game would be decided by penalty kicks.
Angoitia was asked to take the first kick.
“He practices so much, coach couldn’t not let him take one,” Hinde said. “To be honest, he’s fantastic at them. He can hit the same spot repeatedly.”
And he did, shooting the ball straight into the top corner.
His goal set the tone for the remainder of the shootout.
“Taking the first penalty kick is pretty nerve wracking, but he just did it straight away,” Hinde said. “He gave our team so much confidence, and it really killed the other team’s confidence, I think, for a goalkeeper to take the first kick.”
Then with a diving save by Angoitia, Quinnipiac beat Iona in penalty kicks, 7-6, and advanced to the MAAC Championship game against Monmouth, to be played two days later.
The adrenaline and sheer emotion from their victory carried over in the quick turnaround – so the emotional roller coaster the Bobcats were on wasn’t quite over yet.
“It almost worked in our favor because we had no time to think about what we just did against Iona,” Hinde said.
Quinnipiac had yet to beat Monmouth in their last 10 matchups, including one earlier in the season. Angoitia felt pressure riding on that game, as many proposed its outcome would reflect end of season results.
“It was a terrible experience, and they were celebrating like they just won the league in front of us,” Angoitia said. “We always kept that in mind because we knew that we were going to face them again. We knew that no matter what … we were going to see them in the final [match].”
His prediction was right, but he could not have guessed the MAAC Championship would come down to penalty kicks, too.
Da Costa called him in again and once more, Angoitia struck the ball past Monmouth’s goalkeeper and made a diving save that secured the MAAC Championship win for the Bobcats.
Angoitia totaled five saves, including the final save in the shootout, earning the title of MAAC Championship Most Valuable Player.
“It’s a weird feeling to win,” Angoitia said with a smile. “It doesn’t happen every day and it’s just so hard to think about it. I guess it will take a while to really understand what we’ve done.”
During the past two years, each win meant more support from the community and an increased following for the program. The Bobcats’ two historic seasons have been a sign of even more good things to come.
“The coaching staff and the players have done everything they can to build the success … and to keep the success going so fans will continuously support us like they did at UConn,” Strain-Goode said.
But this support is not only growing among fans. University officials are planning to build a new facility for the men’s soccer team for next season. Even though he will have graduated, Hinde hopes the team can play night games under the lights, which he says will foster a more game-time, professional feel.
These night games would not only be more convenient for college students whose classes typically conflict with game times during the day, but also for community members and kids who go to school in the area.
Experiencing low moments and losing seasons in the past makes the players appreciate this program turnaround even more.
Strain-Goode has been in the program for four years, during some of these rough stretches. The team won a combined total of 10 games in his first two seasons at Quinnipiac.
“[Strain-Goode] knows what it is to lose and to win and to stay composed,” Angoitia said. “He transmits that confidence even when you’re losing. You know things can turn around.”
It is this optimistic attitude that co-captains Strain-Goode and Hinde say brought the team success this season.
“You never know what could happen because you work hard for something, and if you give up on it, you never know how close you actually were,” Strain-Goode said. “You could have been one try away.”
In one non-conference game earlier in the season, the Bobcats lost in a 3-0 shutout to Hartford, but Strain-Goode was quick to remind the team to not dwell on the loss and to avoid taking things so seriously.
“It looked bad and it wasn’t a good feeling, but I reminded the team about how last year we lost to Monmouth in the NEC, 3-0, and that was our only conference loss,” he said. “After that, we went undefeated for the rest of the season.
“I just wanted to remind them that you don’t have to look at this Hartford game as something horrible and season-ending … You can take this Hartford game, this loss, as a good thing because we can use it as a turning point.”
For Strain-Goode, who learned to play in a center-midfielder position for the first time this year, this sense of perseverance served as his own personal anthem, as well.
“It led us to our success … and looking at things in a positive manner and to be productive with everything that happens, no matter if it’s good or bad,” he said.
He hopes the team can keep this mindset next year, when he and Hinde are gone.
“They’ll be able to pick up where they left off, but now this season’s already in the past, so just because we won this year doesn’t give us an automatic right to win next year or even just get into the playoffs,” Strain-Goode said. “So a lot of people will be returning, and there’ll be a lot of players here that have the experience and the taste of winning now.
“No one should be content with just staying how they are. Like this season, they should always be looking to improve … and maybe set new goals, like not just win the MAAC but maybe to go undefeated in the MAAC.”
With a returning backline and Angoitia in net, this possibility could very well become a reality.
“Borja was good last year, there’s no doubt,” Hinde said. “But this year, I’m not quite sure what happened. He just stepped up again to another gear and he was just amazing. I feel like he just made no mistakes this year, and he was vocal when he needed to be. He came up massive with saves.”
Angoitia was a reassuring presence on the field.
“You can always rely on him back there, whether it’s a penalty shootout or just in a game directing traffic even if he’s getting no action,” Strain-Goode said. “It was a privilege to have him back there.”
But for Angoitia, the way to a winning season is simple: team chemistry.
“At the end of the day you can have very good individual players, but if things don’t click as a team then things don’t work out,” Angoitia said. “So the main reason why things work is because no matter what, we always stick together and everybody knows their role … people that don’t play or people that play 90 minutes every game.”
With this mindset, they created a bond that transcends the field.
“I’ve loved being part of the team and getting to know the coaches not just as trainers but as people,” Hinde said. “I’m just so thankful that I could come and be part of such a great family.”