BY ANTHONY MITCHELL, SPORTS EDITOR
Throughout the season, men’s soccer head coach Jim Findlay preached to his players to go 1-0 today and not worry about what was to come ahead.
That mantra led the Crusaders to a Division III NCAA Sweet 16 appearance and the first NCAA tournament victory in program history. From sophomore forward Ryan Donlevie to senior goalkeeper Matt Salsman to senior defender Sean Raffetto, the Crusaders received a boost when it mattered most to extend their season time and time again.
In 2008, the Crusaders reached their first NCAA tournament in school history after defeating Catholic 1-0 in the Landmark Conference final on a goal from senior midfielder Matt Gawlas ’08. The Crusaders dropped a dramatic double-overtime decision to Ohio Wesleyan, 1-0 to end their year.
“We were fortunate enough in ’08 to go, and I think in that season we were just happy to be there,” Findlay said. “This time around we really felt like we could win a game or two.”
Much like in 2008, the Crusaders provided a difficult matchup for any team that had to face them.
Bolstered by a senior-led defense, solid play in the middle and clutch goals from the bench, the Crusaders proved to be a tough out. With the season hanging in the balance in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Cabrini, Salsman kept the ball out of the net in the fourth and fifth rounds of penalty kicks before Susquehanna advanced on a goal by sophomore forward David Trank.
The Crusaders’ magical run ended with a 4-1 loss to Ohio Northern, but the Crusaders rewrote the program record books in the process.
Eighteen wins, 12 shutouts and 43 goals set the standard for a team that was balanced on both sides of the ball. Senior defenders Brandon Kates, Zach Zeigler, Sam Meister and Raffetto anchored the backline along with Salsman, and sophomore David Trank used his speed and athleticism to lead the team in points with 14.
Multiple times this season, the Crusaders were backed up against a wall and found a way to come out on top. In the conference tournament, a goal by Donlevie on a ball in front of the net sent the Crusaders into the final. Donlevie was not finished, as a header in overtime against Scranton catapulted the Crusaders to a conference title.
“Beating Scranton in overtime for the Landmark Conference championship was just a great feeling, just the way it ended,” Salsman said. “Nobody saw that coming, and then we just got the goal and it was over.”
Salsman stepped up against Cabrini to allow the Crusaders to come back in penalty kicks in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“As a goalie, you dream about being the hero in PK’s,” Salsman said. “I made the save and we won.”
In the second round against Rochester, it was Raffetto’s turn. Raffetto took the ball slightly past midfield, dribbled away from a defender to gain separation and shot a high blast that squeezed under the crossbar with seven seconds left in the first half.
Kates scored in the 17th minute, but the Polar Bears sent the Crusaders into a deep freeze, scoring two goals in a two-minute span midway through the first half. In the second half, the Crusaders had four corner chances but were unable to find the back of the net.