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Monday, March 4, 2024

UC Davis men’s soccer team finishes season out strong, makes it to finals

An end-of-season lookback from some of the players

 

By MEGAN JOSEPH — sports@theaggie.org

 

As one of the most well-known UC Davis Division I athletic teams, the men’s soccer team finished out their season with a difficult game against the UC Irvine Anteaters. The game ended in a nail-biting penalty kick (pk) shootout with neither the Aggies nor the Anteaters scoring in normal time or overtime during the game. The shootout began strong with both teams only missing one shot; that was, until Irvine’s goalkeeper Luke Pruter made a crucial save. When it mattered most, his save blocked an Aggie goal resulting in the 8-7 final pk score. 

As the first Aggie to take a penalty kick in the game, second-year offensive player Cason Goodman reminisced about that moment in the game. 

“I’d taken a lot of PKs in practice,” Cason said. “We really drilled those right before the finals. I knew I had to do exactly what I had been working on in practice. When you walk up there, it’s really surreal. You have to believe in yourself. I shot first and scored, so there was an immediate feeling of relief to set a strong tone for the team.” 

Prior to the finals match, the Aggies earned a substantial amount of wins throughout the season — one of the most thrilling being the semifinal match against the Cal State Fullerton Titans. The Aggies emerged as victors having earned the winning score of 2-1. With the Aggies losing to the Titans earlier in the season, the win in this Fullerton game was a chance for the Aggies to show everyone that they were prepared to fight for the championship title. 

Even with their immense success against the Titans, the Davis team still had a battle ahead. Cason, the leading scorer on the team this season, described how the Fullerton match provided momentum for the Aggies. 

“I took the season one game at a time and after every game, you get more and more excited and [filled with] more belief,” Cason said. “Fullerton boosted us and earned [us] the win. Our coach said this last year, which I agree with, we peak at the right time. Going further into the championship also means new players find a way to score like Scott [third-year Scott Buie]; scoring in the semifinal for his first collegiate goal was incredible.” 

Despite the strength the team displayed in the championship matches, the Aggies still underwent some hard losses this season. Nevertheless, the team did a great job of using those losses to fuel their motivation. 

“We all knew that the loss or game did not define us as a team and was a building block for us,” Zack Lillington, a second-year offensive player, said. “If we wanted to get the result we wanted, everyone needed to look forward to the next game and we were all confident that we could just build off the loss.” 

Lillington had an outstanding season, taking a record number of shots on goal and playing a considerable amount of time even while battling an injury. In the last few weeks of the season, Lillington suffered a knee injury from an on-campus bike accident that resulted in him getting reduced playing time in the finals. Even so, Lillington still played in the final games of the season, keeping the team together and unified. 

“[The team is] more of a family than just a team,” Lillington said. “Just coming out and appreciating everyone for what they bring on and off the field is important. It is so much more than just soccer for all of us.” 

Second-year defensive player Luke Goodman fought hard on the back line to prevent the Aggies from having any additional losses this season. As a resilient part of the back line, he commented on some of the hardest games for the team this season. 

“Sac State loss, Causeway Cup loss and the final conference match senior night were tough,” Luke said, “And then going from there straight into the Cal Poly game the following week in the start of the playoffs was hard. But, many games were tough all season for different reasons that we tried not to focus on.”

The senior night game against the Sacramento State Hornets proved to be a serious challenge for the Aggies as the visitors scored an early goal that would go on to earn them the win. The Aggies held possession for the majority of the game with the help of fourth-year defensive player Ethan Hoard playing on the defense, but were just short of scoring and taking the lead. Hoard, having played for the Aggies for a significant number of seasons, spoke on the team’s positivity and unity.

“Throughout the losses, ties and wins, we still prevailed and got to the championship where our goal was,” Hoard said. “I think bonding is an understatement to say what we did.” 

During his first experience holding a captain position for the team, Hoard handled the responsibility well, seeing the Aggies through their ups and downs as they played this season. Hoard highlighted what came with being captain for the Aggies. 

“It was a shock how much stuff we had control over, like planning meals and helping with formation,” Hoard said. “But, the most important part was getting the entire team motivated and to listen to what needs or thoughts the players had so we could come together as a team.”

Along with keeping the Aggies motivated and ready for the upcoming games, it’s important for any team, including the Aggies, to have a strong connection and ability to work together cohesively. Luke described how the Aggies went about achieving this team dynamic. 

“Team chemistry is important,” Luke said. “Everyone on the team gets along and loves each other. We are all super close as a team which is one of our greatest strengths.” 

As the season is officially over for the Aggies, they are all looking forward to next season and working hard to prepare and train for whatever they will have to face. With the team immediately starting off-season training following their last game, they will train all winter long and have a small spring season before returning in the summer for the official season. 

For their off-season training, the team practices on the field two days a week and the remainder of the week is spent playing indoor soccer or lifting weights — an intense schedule that should get the Aggies ready for their future games.

Following the end of the season, here is some advice and knowledge from some of the players on the team:
We have a lot of talented younger players and I’m excited to see how they develop, but everyone should use this time to improve their individual game and work on what they are good at,” said Cason.

“I’m looking forward to next season and coming out strong and knowing we had a great team this season and that it will move forward to next season,” stated Lillington. “Also, coming out with the confidence that we know we can win and we know that we can make it to places maybe we haven’t before. I think coming out with confidence is all we need to move forward.”

Luke noted that “coming from being the best one on your team to a group of amazing players can be hard where you might not feel like you fit in. Having the best mentality to handle that is crucial.”

Hoard emphasized the importance of a good mentality. 

“Treat every game like it’s your last because sitting where I am now, the time flew and I can’t believe I just finished my last game,” said Hoard. “Play your hardest but also enjoy the games while you’re in them.”

 

Written by: Megan Joseph — sports@theaggie.org 

 

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