Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

American novelist Rita Mae Brown once said, “Sport strips away personality, letting the white bone of character shine through…[it] gives players an opportunity to know and test themselves.”

This quote essentially summarizes the 2009 season of the UC Santa Cruz men’s soccer team. Through strength of character and an ability to overcome obstacles, the team was able to secure a spot in the NCAA Division III postseason for the fourth time in the past five seasons.

Third-year midfielder and forward Clay Sorensen attributes the team’s success to a new style of leadership under coach Michael Runeare, who was the head coach of the UCSC women’s team for six years prior to becoming the men’s coach this year.

“Our coach has brought us an attitude of togetherness and brotherhood that we’ve never understood before,” said Sorensen. “I think a lot of it has stuck with the guys and it’s helped us develop as players and teammates, as well as friends.”

Sorensen also added that the team was able to learn and mature from last year, when they were “a pretty young team.”

The team finished this year with a record of 13-4-2, significantly improving over last year’s record of 8-7-2. They were undefeated through the first twelve games of the year and were at one point ranked as high as fourth in the nation, according to the NSCAA poll.

Coach Runeare says the team’s good start was what helped them continue to excel.

“We had some good results early in the season that gave us a lot of confidence,” said Runeare, citing to two overtime road victories against University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran as games that helped motivate the team.

The team encountered a significant problem, however, at the end of the regular season schedule. During a late October road trip to Southern California, several players were banned from the team for the remainder of the season due to an undisclosed breach of team rules. Subsequently, they lost their last two games of the season against Cal Lutheran University and Holy Names University, which accounted for half of their total losses this year.

“Seven of the players broke a team rule and were immediately released from the team, but all seven players are back [for the playoffs],” said senior co-captain and central defender Brendan Ward, who preferred not to elaborate on what led up to this decision by the coaches. “Our entire team had our backs and all the players talked to the coaches, [who] reconsidered and gave us a second chance.”

Sorensen feels that despite the obstacle the team had in playing with several teammates missing for the remainder of the season, it ultimately made them stronger and more united.

“Some players made a bad decision that affected the team but coming out of it, especially now all the players have been reinstated, it’s actually going to build our trust with each other and it’s going to benefit us finding out who we are as people and players,” Sorensen said. “If we could do it over I think everyone would’ve done it differently to make sure it didn’t happen, but in the end it has made us stronger and more of a team.”

The team hopes to take this mentality into the first round of the postseason, which begins this Saturday as UCSC will host Claremont Mudd-Scripps (11-7-2), a team they faced in one game during the regular season, and which resulted in a 1-1 tie. Chapman will also play Whitworth on the East Field shortly after this game, and the winners of these two games will face each other in the second round on Sunday (which will also take place at UCSC).

Sorensen believes the team learned from their matchup with Claremont Mudd-Scripps earlier this year and has a plan of attack in mind for this weekend.

“Last time we played them they definitely switched up … they’re a team that plays more direct like [in] Division I soccer and that took us off our game and we weren’t able to keep the ball,” explained Sorensen. “We really need to dictate the style of play … and if we play our game it’s going to come up with us on top.”

Meanwhile, Ward is confident that the team will come out victorious in the postseason.

“Without a doubt we’re the better team, and if we come with the right mentality I think we’re going to win.”