2011 SCU Men's Soccer Year in Review; Character Proven in Team's Late-Season Run

2011 Year In Review (PDF)
Final WCC Stats/Standings (PDF)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. –
The 2011 Santa Clara University men's soccer team was ranked as high as No. 18 nationally and won five-straight matches to close out the regular season. However, the Broncos just missed winning their second consecutive West Coast Conference Championship title.

The Broncos started the year 6-1-3, but went five matches without a victory near the beginning of the conference schedule in October.  This proved to be the reason SCU did not qualify for postseason play – even after the team's remarkable late-season run, including a 2-1 decision over eventual league champion St. Mary's.

"There were no guarantees in the second half of the season that we were going to win the conference championship, but we did everything in our power to win it," said tenth-year Santa Clara head coach and four-time WCC Coach of the Year Cameron Rast. "Going undefeated in the second half… unfortunately it wasn't quite enough. But we can't regret the way we went for it and what we put into it."

Indeed the character of Rast's group was proven down the stretch, guided by the leadership of its senior class, which included First Team All-WCC honorees, defender Mykell Bates, and midfielder Brandon Zimmerman.

The Broncos posted the league's best overall record at 11-5-4, pushing St. Mary's to the brink on the regular season's final day by beating Portland on the road to finish 7-4-1 in WCC play.

"Once we were able to regain a consistent lineup and had a chance to train during the 12-day break, the last run in the season showed the quality in the group again," said Rast. "Not just the quality in the soccer, but the quality of the individuals that are in our program. We had some fantastic leadership from guys that had to stay very true to the ideals we are trying to uphold… sacrifice for the team, commitment to win."

The only game Santa Clara lost through its first 10 was against perennial postseason qualifier New Mexico, who ran the table in the regular season and went on to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. The 6-wins 1-loss 3-ties start elevated the Broncos into the nation's top 20; fueled by the play of high-scoring attacker Erik Hurtado, who was arguably the league's most dangerous frontline player.

Hurtado was named the WCC Player of the Month for September and led all WCC players throughout the season in shots (85) and points (19), while tying for the league-lead in goals (6) and assists (7). Like Bates and Zimmerman, the junior from Beaverton, Ore. was also named First Team All-WCC.

The season began with a pair of impressive results against Pac-12 Conference opponents at home, including a 1-0 season-opening victory over local rival Stanford in the Bay Area Classic and a 2-2 draw with perennial West Coast power and then-No. 6 ranked UCLA.

The Broncos have always been outstanding when playing on their home field at Buck Shaw Stadium and the 2011 season was no exception. SCU went 7-2-3 at home, which included those impressive early-season results.  However, the team's biggest non-conference victory came on the afternoon of Friday, September 16 at Cal.

Senior David Castellanos, freshman Glenn Vass, sophomore Phillip Muscarella and Hurtado all scored in a decisive 4-2 win over the 14th-ranked Bears. It moved SCU's record to 4-1-1 at the time and it marked the program's first victory in Berkeley since 1980.

The momentum from a 4-1-3 non-conference season carried into WCC play, sweeping Gonzaga and Portland at home. The Broncos had established themselves as the WCC front-runners and were ranked in every major national poll.

"Once we got into conference play, the results started out fine. We had a good opening weekend," said Rast. "Then we slipped. We stumbled in a game against USF, where we did not play as well as we should have, not at the level we were capable."

A nightmarish 11-day stretch saw the team drop consecutive matches to USF, St. Mary's, LMU and San Diego. After a scoreless tie with LMU, the once-potent Bronco offense had been held without a goal from Oct. 5 through Oct. 28.

"It was the toughest part of our schedule with a lot of games close together and the guys tried to fight through it," says Rast. "Part of our challenge came from injuries during this stretch, part was due to us not having guys available to play because of card accumulation."

All of the sudden, Santa Clara found itself in last place and knew to have any chance at postseason play it would have to win each of its final five games. Hurtado said at the time: "The past two weeks we've been training hard, working on the flaws that we've had. We should have everyone back. When everyone is back and healthy we have really good chemistry from the backline, to the midfield, to the frontline."

Larry Jackson took over the goalkeeping duties and saved a career-high seven shots in a 4-1 victory over San Diego on Oct .30, which got SCU back into the win column. The return of injured stars Eric Masch, Connor Mitchell, Gabriel Romero, Castellanos and Bates infused Santa Clara with enough firepower on Nov. 3 to comeback and win a thrilling 3-2 game over USF at Negeosco Stadium.

Back-to-back wins, with three more to play had SCU positioned to challenge for the league title. The Broncos celebrated 'Senior Day' at Buck Shaw Stadium with a 2-1 win over St. Mary's – the third consecutive victory over the WCC's first-place team (USD-USF-SMC) – pushing Santa Clara closer to the top.

Entering the final weekend, SCU was within striking distance of winning the WCC and reaching the milestone of the program's 20th trip to the NCAA tournament. The Broncos would have to beat Gonzaga and Portland on the road and have SMC lose or tie one of its final two.

In cold weather up in Spokane, Gonzaga kept Santa Clara off the scoreboard through the first 55 minutes, but fittingly, Hurtado provided the Broncos with the go-ahead second-half goal. Meanwhile, SMC held on to beat LMU in Moraga, setting the stage for the WCC title to be decided on the season's final day.

In Portland two days later, Bates broke a scoreless tie with 10 minutes left allowing Santa Clara its fifth-straight win. And for a brief moment, the Broncos looked like they just might do the improbable and cap off their late-season push by winning the program's 12th WCC title. But almost simultaneously, SMC netted a go-ahead goal of its own, using a man advantage to beat visiting San Diego and stake claim to the WCC crown – finishing one point ahead of Santa Clara in the final standings.

"It required a great effort on St. Mary's part to be able to win out and hold us off," says Rast. "Given that, we could not control what they did, we could only control what we did. The character of our guys really showed down the stretch. I'm proud of them."

2011 Santa Clara Soccer Highlights
* Santa Clara enjoys 23rd winning season in past 25 years
* Broncos post WCC's best regular season overall record (11-5-4)
* Team ranked No. 18 by College Soccer News (Oct. 4), also ranked nationally by NSCAA and TopDrawerSoccer.com
* 2011 NCAA Men's Division I NSCAA All-Far West Team: Erik Hurtado (Second Team), Mykell Bates (Third Team)
* Eight Broncos garner All-WCC honors; First Team: Mykell Bates, Brandon Zimmerman, Erik Hurtado. Freshman Team: Glenn Vass. Honorable Mention: Eric Masch, Connor Mitchell, Larry Jackson and Wesley Culver
* Seniors Eric Masch and Kevin Klasila named WCC All-Academic
* Broncos shutout nine opponents, allow league-low 18 goals
* SCU goes 7-2-3 at home
* Santa Clara wins five consecutive matches to close out the season
* Brandon Zimmerman named to TopDrawerSoccer.com's National Team of the Week (Oct. 2)
* Mykell Bates finishes the year No. 22-ranked pro prospect among seniors by TopDrawerSoccer.com
* Three Broncos named WCC Player of the Week: Kevin Klasila (Aug. 29); Erik Hurtado (Sept. 12 & 19); Eric Masch (Nov. 7)
* Erik Hurtado named WCC Player of the Month (September) – leads league in shots (85) and points (19)
* Cameron Rast moves into second all-time in WCC coaching wins (60-29-19)
* Santa Clara defeats Stanford (Aug. 27), ties then-No. 6 UCLA (Sept. 2) and tops then-No. 14 Cal (Sept. 16) – win in Berkeley is SCU's first since 1980