In its first match against a NESCAC opponent, the men’s soccer team edged out Bowdoin in a 2-1 victory on Jackson Field despite a hot and humid Saturday morning.
The first Wesleyan goal was scored by newcomer Garrett Hardesty ’18 early in the first period. Hardesty attributed his goal to the solid defense that kept the ball farther up in Bowdoin’s half of the field. The defensive pressure put Hardesty in the right place at the right time, which led to the scoring opportunity.
“[Bowdoin’s] defense had the ball and they played it to one of their center defenders,” Hardesty said. “Charlie Gruner [’17] stepped up and pressured the ball. The defender didn’t have any options to pass [to], so he turned back towards his own goal. When I saw this, I took off towards goal because I thought he’d pass it back to his keeper, which he did. [Gruner] actually got a bit of a touch—he went in for the tackle and kind of slowed down the pace of the ball—so it ended up being almost a 50-50 ball with the keeper. I was just there a bit quicker. I tried to get a touch, and I don’t know if [the ball] just glanced barely off of my foot, but it either [nut]megged the keeper or I bridged the keeper. Regardless, the ball kind of slipped through. I had an open net so I finished it.”
Despite a lead to start the game, Hardesty said that the team’s nerves were high-strung through the first half.
“The first fifteen minutes of the game were shaky,” Hardesty said. “We hadn’t settled down enough. Even after the goal we were still a bit frantic, but I think [in] the second half we settled down a little bit and started to play composed.”
The second half started with a Bowdoin goal in the 52nd minute. The score remained tied at ones for 30 minutes before another offensive opportunity for Wesleyan began to take shape in the last ten minutes of regulation, when Chris Kafina ’16 broke through the Bowdoin D to secure a lead for the Birds. In this case, home-field advantage turned out to have a more literal meaning in assisting the Cardinals.
“[Chris Kafina ’16] was assisted by [Adam] Cowie-Haskell [’18],” Hardesty explained. “[Cowie-Haskell] played him the ball, and Chris turned towards goal and he had space. He took a shot, and [the ball] dipped and hit the ground before the goal. The keeper was already diving and it seemed pretty savable, but it hit a rut in the ground, and the keeper dove and [the ball] just bounced over the keeper.”
Getting by with some luck, Hardesty shrugged his shoulders, content with a win and a valuable lesson.
“The moral of the story was just don’t be afraid to take shots,” he said. “Coach [Wheeler] was saying you gotta take shots. Stuff happens when you take a shot.”
With a 2-1 lead, the Cardinals tightened up defensively for the last ten minutes and held the Bears off to secure the victory. Although this match will plainly read as a victory for Wes in the conference standings, Hardesty and his teammates know that there is room to improve.
“Getting two wins is really great, but they were narrow wins,” Hardesty said. “They weren’t our best games. Neither one of them were. And Coach always says it’s actually a good thing that we’re not peaking yet. When it really matters to peak, when the time is correct, that’s when we should peak. So I think it’s all coming together.”
Of the three goals the team potted so far in the nascent campaign, two of them were made by first-years (the first being Cowie-Haskell’s in Wednesday’s game against Eastern Connecticut State University, and the second being Hardesty’s this past Saturday). This, in combination with the return of eleven veteran starters, makes for a team posing threats from all players regardless of graduating class.
“Coming in as a freshman, it’s kind of daunting to see [eleven returning starters],” Hardesty said. “But at the same time, I actually really liked it because it encourages you to push yourself. If you want to get playing time as a freshman coming into a team that has a lot of stud upperclassmen—it’s great motivation.”
After notching two wins in their inaugural contests of the season, the Cardinals are hoping to ride their wave of momentum into this coming week as they prepare for two away games, one against Roger Williams on Wednesday, Sept. 10, and the other against Wheaton on Saturday, Sept. 13.
“Wheaton has given us trouble in the past, so we’re looking forward to what should be a good one,” Hardesty said.