They waited more than a year to play again, and when they did, the Colorado Mesa men’s soccer players knew they were only guaranteed six games.
“I think most of us, we’ve waited so long to play an actual game again,” sophomore forward Alec Fronapfel said. “As soon as the season started we realized we only have six games, so every time you get a chance to go on the field, you’re going to give it your all.”
First-year coach Jon Fridal preached the one-day-a-time, one-game-at-a-time approach.
After a 1-1 tie against Westminster in the season opener, things clicked, with the No. 10 Mavericks rattling off five straight victories.
CMU has not surrendered a goal since that 1-1 tie, outscoring its opponents 16-0 to earn the No. 1 overall seed in the RMAC Tournament and a first-round bye.
Six teams made the field, with the two division winners, CMU and Colorado School of Mines, getting first-round byes.
The Orediggers (5-0-1) won their division and play Fort Lewis at 4 p.m. on Friday at Maverick Field in the first semifinal. Colorado Mesa has a rematch with Regis, a 1-0 quarterfinal winner against CSU-Pueblo, at 7 p.m.
Last week, the Mavericks clinched the top spot in the conference tournament with a decisive 5-0 victory over the Rangers, scoring a goal only 32 seconds into the match and dominating from there.
“Last year we didn’t have a great game against Regis, so a lot of us who played last year kind of wanted to come out and show that we were a different team and a lot better this year,” Fronapfel said. “Coming out right away and getting a quick goal from Ramses (Atahualpa) was a good start and gave us a little bit of energy for the rest of that game.”
But the playoffs are a different beast, so although the Mavericks are confident entering the semifinals, they aren’t expecting any more runaway victories.
“I told the guys (Tuesday) that the rest of the way it’s the elite of the elite,” Fridal said. “There’s no easy games, the rest of the way every game is going to be a battle. It’s going to be a big test, so I think that’s what we have to be prepared for.”
Early in the week, the challenge was to get the Mavs refocused after that lopsided win, but goalkeeper Brendan Brown said they want to ride the momentum into the postseason. It’s a short postseason, since the NCAA canceled Division II national tournaments for sports that moved off their traditional seasons.
“I mean, everyone’s on a high at the moment,” Brown said. “You have a 5-0 win against a team that was ranked second in the preseason, you have to feel good about that. Coming into the tournament, you want momentum going into it, you don’t want to be feeling bad, so yeah, I think we’re feeling good and we feel we can take anyone.”
Brown has played every minute in goal this season, with 13 saves and one goal allowed for a 0.16 goals-against percentage. CMU’s defense has been a huge part of his five clean sheets — Brown has faced only 35 shots. Conversely, the Mavericks have scored 17 goals and taken 111 shots, putting 56 on goal.
“Sometimes it can be a bit boring being back there on my own,” Brown said with a grin. “They do a great job. It’s nice knowing they’re going to be good (defensively). Probably half the saves I’ve made this year are real saves, proper saves, but I’m always there if it happens.”
Fridal said it’s not merely a case of Brown needing to make saves, it’s how he directs the defense.
“I think part of being an exceptional goalkeeper is also solving issues and organizing the defense so that you don’t have to make those saves,” he said. “I think that’s a huge testament to Brendan as well.”
This spring’s success has Fridal and the players eager to see what they can do not only this weekend, but next fall.
“We’ve got a lot of talent, so it’s nice to just get a chance to work with them and get to know them,” said Fridal, who was hired in December. “This really isn’t that different from a normal spring except the fact that the games mean something this time and a normal spring you’d play five games and you train a lot. ... It’s been great to just see the caliber of not just talent, but the mentality and the culture that these guys want.”