One minute remained in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship game on Saturday, Nov. 3 at St. Louis Soccer Park, as Webster University fans loudly counted down the time remaining. Once time expired, the Webster men’s soccer team stormed onto the field into a massive dogpile.
The Gorloks had done it. They beat Westminster College (Mo.) 2-0 and secured a spot in the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time since 2009.
“It was the perfect culmination to a hard-fought season,” senior defender Shea Vogt said. “I think we deserved that, and I think the 13 seniors deserved that. We put everything into this season, and it was really nice to have a reward like that at the end.”
Throughout the season, Webster played a tough schedule, facing nationally-ranked teams Loras College (Iowa) and Wheaton College (Ill.). But the Gorloks were still able to finish with a regular-season record of 10-5-2, claim the No. 1 seed in the SLIAC tournament and win the conference championship.
“As a coaching staff, we knew this group had something special,” coach Marty Todt said. “The biggest thing was to get these guys to believe in themselves, and once they dealt with the adversity that they dealt with, it was just like on a roller coaster.”
In Webster’s regular-season contest against Westminster on Oct. 9, Webster lost in overtime 1-0 in Fulton, Mo. The Blue Jays were flying high before the conference championship game, too.
Westminster was coming off an overtime win at Greenville College (lll.) in a SLIAC semifinal match on Thursday, Nov. 1. The Gorloks wanted the chance for some payback, and they got it. In the first half of the championship match, Webster only allowed seven shots. Westminster was unable to find the back of the net offensively, but neither could Webster. The game went into halftime with an empty scoreboard.
It didn’t take long for the Gorloks to get going, though. Junior forward Pat McCaffrey scored four minutes into the second half. The goal came on a deflection after Vogt put a hard shot on Blue Jay goalie Frank Bowman. Bowman was unable to hold onto the shot, and McCaffrey was there to knock it in.
The Webster duo did it again in the 68th minute. Vogt passed the ball to McCaffrey, and McCaffrey hit it right over the goalie to give the Gorloks a 2-0 advantage. Westminster tried to answer back, but the Webster defense didn’t give in as the Gorloks became SLIAC champs.
“It summed up the whole season into one minute,” McCaffrey said. “We knew we had this game in our hands, and everything was just a build-up until that final whistle. It all came together right at the end. It was perfect.”
Before the Gorloks could get to the point of celebration, they had to beat Fontbonne University on Thursday, Nov. 1 at Soccer Park in the SLIAC semis. It turned out to be another low-scoring game. Webster was able to make a lone goal by junior midfielder Carlos Espinosa stand up. Sophomore goalie Brian Woodward made multiple stops to put the game away.
“We wouldn’t be here if he (Woodward) didn’t come up with the huge saves that he did,” Todt said. “He has been solid, and his focus has been fantastic. We just have to go back to what some of the people in the stands were saying after the Fontbonne game — ‘My God, you’ve got a great goalie.’”
The Gorloks have allowed only four goals in their last 11 games and have recorded eight shutouts during that time. Todt credits his team with its hard work, mental toughness and discipline for what the Gorloks have been able to accomplish this season.
Todt said his two assistant coaches, Alex Fritz and Michael Siener, who played on his 1999 Webster team, set the bar for Webster men’s soccer, which hasn’t been topped since. The Gorloks were No. 5 in the nation in goals allowed. In ’99, though, Webster lost to Washington University 1-0 in the NCAA tournament’s first round.
“What (the coaches) talked about after the game was that this team has the ability to raise that bar another notch, so we’ll see in the NCAA tournament if that comes to fruition or not,” Todt said.
After the game, the SLIAC named senior defender Josh Sellmeyer as the conference’s Player of the Year.
With the two wins over Fontbonne and Westminster, Webster moved its record to 12-5-2 overall.