Soccer ends season with loss in California

Another successful season came to an abrupt end for the Bradley men’s soccer team.  The MVC champions were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament after a 3-1 loss to the California Golden Bears. 

The Bears broke through in the 20th minute. Alec Sundly ripped one from the top of the box past Brian Billings and into the goal. Later, Steve Birnbaum rocketed in a 30-yarder for his 10th goal on the season. Cal led 2-0 at halftime.

Bradley struck quickly in the second half. Senior forward Wojciech Wojcik took a pass from Christian Okeke and sent a one-timer past the Cal keeper to cut the lead in half.  It was Wojcik’s 6th goal on the season and team-leading 26th point.

After a close no-call at the Cal end, it was again Sundly who redirected a shot from Connor Hallisey into the goal for what turned out to be the final score of the game.

“It’s pretty difficult to pull back into it against a team of that quality,” Coach Jim DeRose said.  “Cal was No. 1 in the country for about five weeks, they didn’t lose a game until October 24th.  We were playing our third game in 10 days, they hadn’t played in ten days.”

The Braves finished the season with a 14-6-2 record, including a win over Connecticut, the number one ranked team in the country at the time. For DeRose, that win was one of the highlights of the season for both him and the team.

“We beat UConn when they were No. 1 in the country,” DeRose said. “It always ends with the ultimate goal: NCAA tournaments and conference championships.”

In the last four seasons, the Braves have made the NCAA tournament three times and won a pair of conference titles in 2010 and 2013. Seniors Billings, Alon Badat, Alexei Davis-Campbell and Wojcik left their mark on the team for years to come.

“They were probably an unheralded recruiting class,” said DeRose. “What they were able to accomplish, it’s pretty special.”

Looking ahead, DeRose said he realizes that there is a lot of work to be done. Replacing the team’s top scorers and arguably the best goalkeeper in the country is no easy task, he said, it helps to have a plan.

“We’re not going to go out and get a ton of junior college kids or transfers,” DeRose said. “We’re going to rely on our guys, the guys that we redshirted and waited patiently.”