“Should we do it?” a student asked his friend nervously as the game clock ticked down.
“We should do it,” the friend replied, preparing to hop the barrier between the student section and the soccer pitch.
For most students, Friday night was the first time they had set foot on the grass at Merlo Field. Nearly 300 students rushed to join the men’s soccer team in celebration after beating St. Mary’s 1-0 and winning their first West Coast Conference title since 2002.
It was senior Matt Coffey who got the crowd going early with a goal in the sixth minute. The Pilots players didn’t hold back — celebrating it more than they would just any goal — with players leaping off the bench to hug their teammate. Coffey was all smiles post game.
“We just kind of got caught up in the moment and there was a big adrenaline rush,” Coffey said his early goal. “We kind of over-celebrated a bit, but it was okay.”
Merlo was electric from there. Students, clapping inflatable purple Pilot thundersticks, were on their feet for the duration of the game. It gave energy to the nine seniors who knew that this would be their last chance to do something special.
“We knew it was our last season and we knew we just had to push,” senior midfielder Eddie Sanchez said. “We just wanted to leave this program where it deserves (to be) and I think we’ve done that by winning today and it’s a great feeling.”
The joy and excitement was long overdue for a program and a fanbase that has been thirsting for a turnaround in recent years. Sanchez, who was on a team that didn’t win a single conference game in 2014, tried to soak it all in after the game.
But the celebration won’t last long for the Pilots, who now find themselves in postseason play for the first time since 2009. The location of their first postseason game is yet to be determined.
“Honestly there are no words for this,” Sanchez said. “It’s a big rush, tears come out and smiles and with all the hard work that we’ve done in the past and all the work that we’ve put in, we definitely deserve it.”
First year head coach Nick Carlin Voigt, who guided the Pilots in their 12-5-1 campaign, couldn’t avoid a Gatorade shower after delivering a celebratory speech to fans and players post game.
“It’s just unbelievable, it’s surreal,” Carlin-Voigt said. “We’ve won something really big. We’re going to celebrate tonight, we have to, moments of sports and joy don’t come around like this all the time.”
Even University President Fr. Mark Poorman was on the field post game and told the Beacon how pleased he was for the team in between hugging students and faculty.
“This is a culmination of a long journey this year and this is just a fantastic memory for the team and the students and all of the UP community,” he said.