TERRE HAUTE —
When sophomore Mike Smyser guided the ball into the net during the opening minutes of the Rose-Hulman men’s soccer match against undefeated, NCAA Division III No. 1-ranked Ohio Wesleyan on Sunday in Delaware, Ohio, he had no idea it would be the only goal of a hard-fought match.
“We definitely weren’t expecting to score that quickly,” Smyser reflected Tuesday about his third goal of the season.
“[Teammate] Ben Green took it down the line and crossed it somewhere between the 18[-yard line] and the goal line and [another teammate] Marshall Ishmael challenged for the header and got a flick on the ball. I was trailing the play … and I saw a defender charging me. So I one-touched it inside to get by the rushing defender and I just hit it into the left corner of the goal. It barely deflected off one of their defenders on the way. … It was so early in the game, I was kinda in disbelief. That gave us belief and hope.”
“That was by far the biggest one in his career,” Rose coach Sean Helliwell said of the right midfielder’s memorable goal. “It was a cross that came from the left-hand side. … and it reached Mike on the right side of the penalty box. Obviously, that was a great goal and it gave us some confidence.”
In what could be described as a top-five victory in Rose-Hulman athletics history, Smyser’s early goal and a bend-but-don’t-break defense enabled the Engineers to upset Ohio Wesleyan 1-0 and improve their record to 12-5-5.
With Rose junior goalkeeper Drew Miller helping preserve the shutout with three saves, Ohio Wesleyan’s season came to a stunning end at 19-1-3.
Smyser, who has received countless congratulatory texts and calls over the last few days, described his postgame reaction as “pure jubilation.”
“Everyone on the bench rushed out there,” he mentioned. “My mom and dad were at the game. It was incredible. Sheer ecstasy.”
“The substitutes ran onto the field and the guys playing were very tired because it had been a long game, but everyone was very excited,” Helliwell added. “It was one of those wins that doesn’t come along very often.”
Now the increasingly confident Engineers must focus their attention on the third round of the Division III tourney — the Round of 16 — because their next match will be against No. 19 Franklin & Marshall (16-3-2) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Messiah College’s Shoemaker Field in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
The other teams in the Eastern Sectional — No. 3 Messiah (20-1-1) and unranked Kenyon (16-4-3) — will square off at 5 p.m. Saturday on the same field. Then both semifinal winners will meet at 5 p.m. Sunday at Messiah for the sectional championship and the right to move on to the national finals Dec. 6-7 at San Antonio.
Not surprisingly, the Engineers like their chances of advancing.
“Our defense has been solid this entire season, but we like to attack and possess the ball,” Smyser noted. “We’re going to try to do that against Franklin & Marshall.”
“I’m sure the [Ohio] Wesleyan game made our guys feel like ‘Hey, we can compete against anybody in the country,’” Helliwell pointed out. “I’m hoping on Saturday we can go out there and prove we belong. We’ll give it our best shot.
“Defensively, we’ll need to play strong. That’s probably what got us to this point. And then we always talk about playing for the full 90 minutes. So we’ll see where that takes us.”
On Tuesday, Helliwell watched some video of Franklin & Marshall’s team — which has posted 12 shutouts this season — and he came away impressed.
“Defensively, they’ll be a good team,” he assessed. “On offense, they’ve got a forward named Ben Beaver [a senior] and he’s got 13 goals and two assists.”
From the Rose-Hulman perspective, senior forward Drew Belk leads the squad with 15 goals and three assists. Next is senior forward Will Senat with eight goals and five assists. On defense, the Engineers have 13 shutouts on their résumé.
Can they add to these impressive statistics this weekend?
It seems possible.
“Our initial goal going into the season was to win one NCAA tournament game,” Helliwell told the Tribune-Star. “When we’d qualified [for the Division III tourney] in past years, we always got knocked out in the first round. … Now we’ve won our second game and it’s really exciting for the kids.”
As the Engineers leave Terre Haute to begin their trip to Pennsylvania this afternoon, here are a few things to consider:
• This marks the third time in school history that a Rose-Hulman team in any sport has advanced to the NCAA Division III Sweet 16 (men’s basketball in 1977 and 1982).
• This was the first time in school history that a Rose team in any sport defeated the No. 1-ranked team in an NCAA tournament and only the second time any Engineers squad beat a top-ranked team. The previous time occurred in 1998 when coach Jim Shaw’s men’s basketball team knocked off Illinois Wesleyan in Hulbert Arena.
• The Rose-Hulman men’s soccer team became the third team in school history to win a game in the NCAA tournament, joining baseball and men’s basketball.
• The Rose men’s soccer team has tallied a school-record 13 shutouts this season. … In defeating Ohio Wesleyan, the Engineers recorded their fifth straight shutout, they have allowed only two goals in their last 11 matches and they have not allowed a goal since Oct. 30.