The Pilots failed to advance to the post-season following a 1-0 loss to Santa Clara
By Kyle Cape-Lindelin Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite a disappointing loss 1-0 to Santa Clara on Nov. 13, UP faithfuls got a chance to thank and honor seniors Michael Nielsen, Ryan Kawulok and Connor Barbaree for their contributions to an 11-7-2 record and for their constant leadership.
"Four years go by quick, it's very sad and emotional to see these great players go," head coach Bill Irwin said. "What keeps me excited and happy is that they left their mark on our program and they all have bright futures in the game."
While Nielsen, Kawulok and Barbaree carried the team in scoring through much of the season, on Nov. 11 they watched their young teammates force a 2-1 double-overtime win against San Francisco.
UP held a 20-8 shot advantage throughout the game and consistently controlled the tempo. San Francisco's freshman star forward Miguel Aguilar nearly stole the victory away from the Pilots when he fired in a goal in the 79th minute past junior goalkeeper Justin Baarts.
As the Pilots playoff hopes began to drain at the end of regulation, sophomore Thomas Iwasaki stepped up and buried the tying goal after sophomore Ricardo Carrillo sent in a cross that was deflected right to Iwasaki with only 65 seconds left in regulation to save the Pilots season.
After a scoreless first overtime and being held in check midway through the second, Nielsen and Kawulok set up a string of passes to find sophomore Steven Evans open at the top center of the box. Evans composedly knocked in the game-winner in the 106th minute.
"It was a great feeling getting to win the game for my team, especially after such a long battle," Evans said.
Kawulok, who helped set up the game-winning goal, has nothing but confidence in the future of the men's soccer team, even after he, Nielsen and Barbaree step off the field.
"We got a lot of potential in this program, and I think we've displayed that this season with the turnaround we had," Kawulok said. "This is a really talented young core we have and they're going to keep getting better."
The Pilots had a chance to complete their turnaround as WCC champions with a win against Santa Clara and a St. Mary's loss, but they came up short.
Despite playing stellar defense throughout the game with eight stops by Baarts to keep the game scoreless, junior Santa Clara defender Mykell Bates was able to head in the game-winner in the 81st minute off a free kick to end UP's chances at an NCAA tournament berth.
"We always knew the season was going to come down to the last game," Irwin said. "Both teams fought hard and there was great intensity, Santa Clara was just able to get the one goal they needed."
With the loss, UP fans said goodbye to Nielsen, Barbaree and Kawulok in their last game at Merlo Field.
"It was a great run for me here at UP," Nielsen said. "I owe a lot to Coach Irwin and my teammates, they made me into the player that I am today."
Barbaree also paid tribute to UP's coaching staff and teammates, particularly for making his cross-country transfer from Clemson University two years ago comfortable.
"I'm really grateful to have awesome guys like Mike and Ryan in my class because they work just as hard and care about the game as much as I do," Barbaree said. "They, as well as the coaches, really helped me succeed and it was great being pushed everyday by such talented underclassmen."
The Pilots were not selected for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament on Monday, which ended their season. Despite going on a six-game winning streak at the end of the season, UP's struggles at the beginning of the season against tough WCC opponents kept the Pilots from continuing the season.
"We really pulled together and fought hard to try and give ourselves a chance," Kawulok said. "It's too bad we didn't earn a spot, but that's on us and shows how many good teams there are out there."