The seniors of the Occidental men’s soccer team (7-9 SCIAC, 8-9-1 overall) took the field for the last time against Pomona-Pitzer (8-6-2 SCIAC, 9-7-2 overall) Oct. 26. Despite outshooting the Sagehens 23 to 5, they suffered a 2-1 loss on senior night. Seniors Grayson Burdon, Morgan Bennett-Smith, Benjamin “Ed” Sartor, Thayer Fisher, Peter Laminette and Alban Zohn were all honored.
With two games left, the Tigers faced a must-win situation against the Sagehens to boost their chances of making the playoffs. The top four teams in the league move on to the SCIAC playoff tournament. A win would have put them into the fourth and final playoff spot, while a loss would effectively end their season.
After the pregame ceremony, the Tigers came firing out of the gates. Bennett-Smith’s pace up and down the sidelines created problems the entire game for the Sagehen fullbacks. While this led to many offensive chances, the Tigers struggled to find the back of the net.
Bennett-Smith led the Tigers with eight goals this season and head coach Rod Lafaurie praised the senior forward’s energy. Lafaurie recognized that much of Bennett-Smith’s success has come from his intensity and worth ethic.
“He’s just such a hard worker,” Lafaurie said. “He’s so unique because he never gives up, he has this sort of never-die attitude, which to me is so unique especially for a front running guy.”
Although the Tigers dominated the first half with 16 shots, they went into halftime locked in a scoreless battle. But in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, the Tigers finally broke the deadlock.
Bennett-Smith lobbed one of his trademark long throws into the penalty area, and sent the Sagehens defense scrambling. Elijah Remy (junior) quickly tracked down the ball and buried a perfectly hit volley into the top corner to put the Tigers on top.
But just over a minute later, in the 57th minute of the game, Sagehens striker Voja Maric pulled his side level with a goal of his own. Pomona-Pitzer seemed to have found a rhythm and continued to pressure the Tigers in the following minutes after the equalizer. In the 62nd minute, Maric scored again to give the Sagehens the lead for good.
Although the loss put the Tigers out of playoff contention, Burdon was proud of how the team stayed supportive and positive.
“Regardless of score it showed how together we are as a team and as a family,” Burdon said. “We stressed that a lot during season … and it was evident.”
Burdon has been effective in front of goal, scoring six times in his final season. During the summer, he prepared for the season by researching the different SCIAC fullbacks he would face.
Lafaurie explained the reason for Burdon’s success, discussing how players typically experience a sense of finality once they reach their senior year. According to Laufarie, this feeling can trigger a sense of urgency that pushes players to reach a new level.
Sartor — a defender from the Palo Alto area — sprained his MCL in Septemberand had been working to get back on the field during the past month. On senior night — the last home game of his career — Sartor was able to start for the Tigers.
“The trainer cleared me for play the morning of the game, so getting one last chance to step onto Patterson, even just for 15 minutes, made all the hours in the training room feel worth it in the end,” Sartor said via email.
Burdon and Sartor have played on the same club soccer team since they were six years old. For Burdon, it was special to take the field together for one final game on their home turf.
“Getting Eddy out there and playing alongside him was so much fun and it was a blessing to have him play alongside me again,” Burdon said.
The Tigers ended the season Oct. 29 at Redlands, where they were unable to complete the season sweep of the regular season champion Redlands Bulldogs.
This group of seniors has persevered through two win seasons and has also been part of nationally ranked sides. Although much has changed over the past four years, some things have continued to stay the same.
“They’ve been the same guys in their work, integrity and in terms of all the things that make them special, [through] the ups and downs which means a lot because it’s easy for people when things aren’t going well to be the same person and they’ve been quite remarkable,” Lafaurie said.
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