September 11, 2009

Right of Passage: Celebrating the SCU NCAA Title Team of '89

Sept. 11, 2009

By: John Gragnola, SCU Student Assistant

The Sun., Sept. 13 men's soccer match at Buck Shaw Stadium vs. Sacramento State will also be the setting for the 20th anniversary celebration of Santa Clara's 1989 NCAA National Championship team. Santa Clara ended the 1989 campaign with an undefeated record of 20-0-3. The Broncos finished the year atop the polls, putting the Santa Clara on the map as one of college soccer's new powerhouses.

Twenty years later, the Broncos are led by three coaches who helped raise that championship banner and bring the program to national prominence. Current Santa Clara Head Coach Cameron Rast was captain of the '89 team and played a vital role as center back on a team that was rarely scored on.

Eric Yamamoto, the associate head coach, was a senior goalkeeper that season posting numerous clean sheets on SCU's way to the title. Volunteer Coach Jeff Baicher was a dynamic playmaker with nine goals and 20 assists over the course of the year, including Santa Clara's lone goal in the championship game.

Santa Clara had an attack that was second to none in 1989. The team scored a record 79 goals and played stingy defense.

"Our whole team was committed to not letting the other team get shots on goal," said Rast. "We had Paul Bravo who could score goals, Jeff Baicher that could get assists and Paul Holocher who could get goals and assists - every guy could contribute. We could rely on our defense or score goals if we needed to."

With victories of 10-0 against San Jose State and 8-0 against Cal State Stanislaus, Santa Clara was a juggernaut that relied on a disciplined approach that was tested by some of the countries elite teams.

After nearly running the table in regular season play, Santa Clara cruised through the opening rounds of the postseason and headed to the Final Four along with Indiana, Rutgers, and Virginia. The Broncos faced a tough test in the semifinals against defending champions Indiana. SCU found itself down 2-0, after two early goals from Indiana, which put the perfect season in jeopardy.

When asked if there was any doubt that the team could come back from the 2-0 Final Four deficit, Yamamoto replied: "We knew we were explosive on attack and clawing back gave us a lot of momentum."

Santa Clara was able to score two goals before the end of the first half and tie the game.

"Once we got that first goal there was no doubt we were going to push as hard as we could to try and win that game," said Rast.

With momentum in its favor, Santa Clara came out in the second half and scored two more goals to go up 4-2 and book a trip to the championship game against Virginia.

With Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. serving as the setting, the kick off temperature was 21 degrees with a wind chill that made it 10 degrees below zero. Rast described the conditions on the field as, "something you could not prepare for."

"The field had actually frozen over and the grass was as slippery as ice," said Rast. "Your hands got so cold you couldn't grip the ball. The muscles in our faces were so cold that we were slurring our words and couldn't enunciate."

The NCAA decided after that championship game in 1989 that it needed to have the Final Four in a warm climate. Nonetheless, the game had to be played.

Virginia got on the board first with a goal in the 27th minute by midfielder Drew Fallon. Santa Clara went into the halftime intermission down 1-0 with 45 minutes left to keep the perfect season alive. SCU kept working until the final whistle to try and get a break. UVA began to sit-back on defense. With the 1989 NCAA player of the year Tony Meola in goal, the task of leveling the game got more difficult with each passing minute.

"Until that final whistle blew I don't think we had doubt," said Rast. "We didn't get panicky and we kept working as hard as we could to create opportunities and chances."

The hard work paid off. With 6:23 left in regulation, Santa Clara midfielder Paul Holocher gathered a misplayed ball by Virginia sweeper Curt Onalfo and found Jeff Baicher, who netted the tying goal and sent the game to overtime.

Neither team was able to find the net after four overtime periods. After over two hours of attrition in the cold the game was called a draw. Santa Clara and Virginia were named co-national champions.

Rast and Yamamoto have a number of different memories from that season. For Rast, it was fulfilling to see the team end its season undefeated and owning the number one ranking in the country.

"It was a culmination of having the last undefeated men's team in college soccer," said Rast. "There was a touch of bitter sweetness since it wasn't decided on the field, but it put us on the map of college soccer with other teams that were that good."

For Yamamoto, it was the climax of a career that say Santa Clara go from a mediocre team to a national power: "It was a great way to end my career. The four best teams in the country were there with us in the Final Four. For us to be able to beat Indiana and tie Virginia, we felt like the national champions because we were undefeated. It was over all of a sudden. I remember the game, but when I look back, I remember after the game there was an outpouring of emotion. My career was over."

Twenty years later, the coaches are gearing up for a promising 2009 season.

"We are here to win championships," said Rast, "and the experience that we had in 1989 is the same we want for our players and all the players who come here. We want to share that feeling with today's players and that's our goal every year. I hope I would help them achieve something that they would be proud of for their entire lifetimes. We won't stop pursuing it until we get it done again."