By WESLEY HOST
Vuvuzelas sounded, thunder sticks pounded and the wall of white stood strong as the Mary Washington men’s soccer team prepared to take on Hood College. The crowd swelled to full capacity as students and alumni flocked to the battlegrounds on Homecoming weekend.
The starting 11 fed off of the crowd’s energy to control the momentum in the first half, when the Eagles overwhelmed the Blazers with shots from multiple angles. When not attacking, the Eagles handled the ball in the backfield and connected passes to bring the ball up the field. Junior midfielder Bram Sims acted as the primary distributor, constantly advancing the ball out from the center to the forwards flying up the sidelines. In the 15th minute, Sims set up a pass to freshman Tommy Sangbouasy, who quickly got it to senior midfielder Ryan Taibl. Taibl toyed with the Blazers’ defenders and kicked a line drive to the left of the goalkeeper. The goal put the Eagles on the board first and unleashed the raucous crowd.
UMW took the 1-0 lead into halftime, as the stout Eagles defense kept Hood from even attempting a shot in the opening period.
However, the early momentum didn’t carry into the second half of play, as Hood got a quick goal to dampen the Eagles’ spirits. The Blazers got a 16 yard free kick after a mishap by freshmen goalkeeper Blake Weiss. Weiss touched the ball with his hands to settle it and then picked it back up, which is a penalty. The Blazers were given an indirect kick from where Weiss touched the ball, and Hood freshman Eric Diehl zipped a shot to the left of Weiss for the equalizer.
Both teams struggled to take the lead, as each defense stiffened in the ensuing 20-minute stretch. Finally, in the 79th minute, UMW capitalized on a throw-in deep in Blazers territory.
Matt Poole set up the play with a booming throw-in into the box. Taibl aligned himself and headed the ball over to sophomore defender Duke Mensah-Abrampah, who then headed it past Hood goalkeeper Will Lane to put the Eagles on top again.
“I knew he (Taibl) would flick it on so I just did my thing,” Mensah-Abrampah said.
A mere two minutes later, in the 81st minute, the Eagles struck again to push their lead to 3-1. Senior forward T.L. Tutor received the ball with space just outside of the box. Moving right at first, he quickly crossed left to beat the final defender and then delivered a left-footed strike for his team-high 10th goal of the season
The Eagles seemed to be sitting pretty with a two-goal lead, but a late goal in the 84th minute by Hood junior Chris Mendez quieted the crowd and sped up their collective pulses. Yet UMW held on for the 3-2 victory and improved to 8-5-2 and 3-3-1 in CAC play.
Weiss’ first game of the season was sure to be a memorable one. He got the call he was going to start the day before and was just told to get a good night’s sleep. On paper he only had one save, but he stayed poised throughout the game and handled the backfield.
It was a big win for a team that had lost their previous three conference games.
“We had been struggling to make the playoffs. If we lost this game it would [have] put all the pressure on our next game,” Mensah-Abrampah said.
The coaching staff also recognized the importance of the game
“Every win is big with us, but some are bigger than others,” assistant coach David Lausten said.
The Eagles played their final conference game of the season last night against Marymount University. UMW defeated the visiting Saints 1-0.
Next up for the Eagles will be the CAC tournament, which begins on Oct. 31, Halloween Sunday.