The Santa Clara University men's soccer team defeated Gonzaga University 2-0 Sunday afternoon, clinching the 2010 West Coast Conference Championship.
Late in the second half at SCU's Buck Shaw Stadium, with the Broncos well on their way to a lopsided victory over the Zags, the fans behind Santa Clara's bench erupted in applause. It wasn't for the action on the field in front of them, rather it was because USF had scored a go-ahead goal against LMU in Los Angeles.
It mark's Santa Clara's 19th NCAA tournament appearance and 11th WCC title, its first since 2007. After a two-year playoff hiatus, the Broncos were picked to finish fifth in the seven-team WCC this season.
"This is amazing, I can't even describe it," said Santa Clara's Erik Hurtado after the win. "We have such a good core group on this team. It's incredible."
Hurtado set up freshman teammate Keigo Kameya for Sunday's first goal, just six minutes in and terrific passing from Brandon Zimmerman and Cal McKee provided Alex Fitschen an open net later in the first half. Santa Clara led 2-0 at the intermission and the lead was never seriously challenged by the last-place Zags (4-15; 1-11 WCC).
The Broncos' championship aspirations had taken a major blow Friday night, after a 1-0 loss to the University of Portland. Up until then, Santa Clara had controlled their postseason destiny, but the loss propelled LMU back into the drivers seat on the season's final day.
"Initially after (Friday's) game it was disappointing because we felt like we lost it right there," said Zimmerman. "But the coaches especially, did a great job of switching us out of that mode and moving on to the next job, Sunday. We had to win today to have a chance. I don't know if anyone really knew it was going to happen but it did. I couldn't be happier."
The Broncos started the season 2-4, with non-conference losses to Valparaiso and Wisconsin sending its NCAA RPI below 100. Despite a marked turnaround, leading the WCC in goals and going unbeaten in 12-straight from Sept. 19 through Nov. 5, Santa Clara had to win the league title to assure itself of qualifying for postseason play.
"Going into this season, nobody expected us to win (the championship)," said Zimmerman. "That's what feels the best. Going on the unbeaten streak we went on was outstanding. A lot of guys turned in on at the right time, found their spots – nobody tried to be the all-star for this team. You can see, if you look at our stats, all kinds of guys are scoring for us; it's not just one guy. It's a group effort and that's why we've been successful."
The WCC Championship is the fourth in nine seasons under head coach Cameron Rast. Santa Clara is 31-13-16 over the past four seasons in conference play.