By Landon Troka, Guest Writer
The Azusa Pacific men’s soccer team found success in its first season as a full member of the NCAA Division II. The team finished with a 14-3 (11-1 PacWest) record and the PacWest championship.
The team then earned the second seed in the West Region in the playoffs, which allowed it to host the first and second rounds of tournament.
“Definitely was a very successful season, both in conference and in the region,” said head coach Dave Blomquist. “I was really pleased with the performance of the guys, and they did a great job of coming together as a team on and off the field, which was the reason for a lot of our success.”
The Cougars began the year with a win over Cal State Dominquez Hills, which was ranked fifth in the West Region. They followed that with a 2-1 win over Simon Fraser, ranked second nationally at the time.
These wins established the tone for the Cougars’ season. The team proved that it were among the best in the West Region.
The team entered conference play 3 -1. The team dropped its only conference game to Hawaii Pacific in early October before winning 10 straight games to finish the regular season.
After having a bye in the first round, the Cougars lost 1-0 in a thriller in the second round to third-seeded, eventual West Region champion Cal State LA.
The season was characterized by one-goal games. Thirteen of the team’s first 14 contests were decided by a single score, including three overtime wins.
“Overall, our experience with one-goal games was positive,” Blomquist said. “The fact that we can win one-goal games shows the team could respond in positive ways to tough situations [and is a] testament to teamwork and perseverance.”
Blomquist was named PacWest coach of the year. The team was characterized by stout defense and dynamic offense.
The Cougars allowed 15 goals, the fewest in the PacWest. Junior defenders Raul Martinez, Dane Johnson and sophomore defender Chris Brusenbeck each earned All-PacWest honors. Martinez earned a third-team nod, Johnson second team, and Brusenback earned a first-team spot as well as PacWest defender of the year.
“Defense was one of our strengths from the front three through the midfield and into the back four and keeper; as a team we defended well,” Blomquist said.
On top of PacWest honors, Brusenbeck and Martinez earned All-West region spots. Brusenbeck was a first-team selection, and Martinez was awarded a second-team one.
Sophomore keeper Tyler Jaramillo allowed just 15 goals in 17 games. He led the conference in goals against average.
Offensively, the Cougars were dynamic. The team had six players with double-digit points on the year. Junior forward Keenan Armbrust, a second team All-PacWest and first team All-West region selection, led the team with 18 points on six goals and six assists. Both marks led the team. Sophomore midfielder Luke Ackerman, first team PacWest, also contributed six goals and two assists. Junior forward Carlos Garcia-Partida earned first-team PacWest honors with his five goals, four of which were game-winners.
Junior Keyran Kelly and freshman Kaleb Armbrust were the final members of the Cougars’ offensive group that finished second in total goals and second in scoring average in the conference. Kelly added four goals and four assists and Armbrust contributed three goals and five assists.
Despite these lofty numbers, Blomquist found room for improvement: “We want to build on the consistency and danger on the attack, games or stretches of games where we were extremely dangerous, and there were stretches where there wasn’t the sharpness and precision and coordination that we strive for.”
The lone senior on the team, Jeremy Bishop, earned second team All-PacWest honors after contributing five goals and two assists. He also acted as the Cougars’ captain throughout the year.
As Bishop is the only graduating senior, the team will return everyone else. This is promising for the Cougars, as they look to continue the success of this year.
“I expect next year’s group to build upon the success of this season, not to take anything for granted but continue to work hard to get better,” Blomquist said. “That’s the type of team we will be: always striving to perform at a higher level.”