UC Davis Men’s soccer triumphs over Sacramento State to close out league play
In front of a filled Aggie soccer field on Saturday, the UC Davis men’s soccer team brought home the perfect senior day celebration: a clutch win over the team from just across the Causeway that clinched the top seed in the Big West conference tournament.
Going into the game, the Aggies were aware that the outcome of Saturday’s match would help to determine their position heading into the postseason. The pressure to secure the top spot was on, but they didn’t let that get in the way of playing their game.
Fans arrived early, ready to honor the team’s five seniors, midfielders Marte Formico and Dylan Wood, forwards Kristian Heptner and Adam Mickelson, and goalkeeper Wallis Lapsley. This rivalry game had a lot at stake for both sides, as the Hornets likely needed a win to clinch a playoff spot and the Aggies wanted to retain their hold at the top of the conference.
The two teams met nearly a month prior in Sacramento, where it was the Aggies who prevailed 2-1 thanks to a clutch Heptner free kick goal in overtime. That game on Oct. 5 was not designated as a Big West conference game, so that made Saturday’s contest all that more meaningful as the two sides clashed for the second time of the season.
The two teams played back and forth continuously in the first half, and at the break they remained locked in a 0-0 draw. But things began to open up in the second frame, and UC Davis took control of the match.
Around the 62nd minute, what appeared to be an Aggie goal was negated by an offsides call. But UC Davis continued to apply the pressure, and it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before the Aggies would break through. All in all, the Aggies totaled 19 shots on the afternoon, four of which were on frame. It wasn’t until the 19th and final shot that UC Davis found the back of the net.
In the game’s 85th minute, sophomore forward Robert Mejia delivered the ball into the Sac State box on a long throw in. Getting on the other end of the ball was junior defender Jake Haupt, who was able to control the ball in time to sneak it past the Sac State goalkeeper for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
“(Mejia) put it in the perfect spot for us to get a goal in,” Haupt said. “All the cards fell in my hands, and I was lucky enough to be there and put it away.”
This all-important score sent the Aggies on to victory and cemented them squarely at the top of the Big West standings with 16 points. It also allows UC Davis to bypass the first round of the tournament and host their semifinal match. Aware of the importance of this game, Haupt understood what that goal meant for his team.
“We have worked so hard for this moment,” Haupt explained. “To get that game-winner goal, it is unbelievable. It’s hard to put that into words.”
This was Haupt’s first goal of the year after starting all 17 regular season games. With all the chaos that occurs near the goal, he had to keep his composure to deliver for his team.
“There was a split second where I was gonna either shoot it or hold onto it for half a second longer, and luckily I held onto it for half a second longer — or else the goalie probably would’ve gotten it,” Haupt explained. “My mind was just running through the whole thing, ‘you gotta get the goal to send us through.’”
It was easy to tell that the team was elated once Haupt’s clutch strike found the back of the net, and the packed crowd at the Aggie soccer field made for even sweeter celebration.
“I was loving when the fans come to show up,” Haupt said. “It makes the game easier makes the game better. It was unbelievable to have those fans”
UC Davis closed its regular season with a 11-4-2 overall record, including a 5-1-1 record in conference play. Now the team will have time to gear up for the conference tournament, which will bring new levels to their game and to the home environment.
“I remember when I was a freshman, I wasn’t even playing yet,” Haupt recalled. “All the fans packed the stands (for the playoffs). It was an unbelievable atmosphere, and I am just so excited for that to happen again.”
After coming up heartbreakingly short in each of the last two conference final games, the Aggies will try once again to overcome their Big West tournament demons this postseason. Their road to redemption begins Saturday at 2 p.m., when UC Davis will host the winner of wednesday’s quarterfinal matchup between Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly.
“I know we are a tough team to beat,” Haupt said. “There [are] not a lot of teams that can stop what we do. We take it long, we play the ball short, we have big guys, we have small guys, we have fast guys […] We just gotta get our minds and bodies ready.”
Written by Frankie Veverka — firstname.lastname@example.org