Mark Sleggs' good friend and mentor, Don Meyer, the second all-time winningest coach in NCAA men's college basketball history who serves as an inspiration and example of sorts to the Southwestern soccer players, often told coaches that it was important for them to take a few minutes - five, maybe 10 - to simply ponder the events of the day.
So as Sleggs' elated Trojans gathered at their bench at Charles A. Lawson Field on a cool Friday night to celebrate their hard-fought victory over Fredonia by penalty kicks, 3-2, Sleggs didn't immediately join the group. Instead, he walked over to the far side of the field, alone, to have a few moments to himself.
"I'm still pretty emotional," he said, "it was a pretty emotional game. Fredonia gave us everything they had and sometimes you just don't know how those things are going to work out. There's no losers in a game like this. (Fredonia) has nothing to be ashamed of. They're winners as far as I'm concerned."
Southwestern goaltender Eric Priester makes his second save during a shootout with Fredonia in Friday’s Section 6 Class B-2 quarterfinal game. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photos by Rob Tucker
After 110 minutes of back-and-forth, give-everything-you've-got scoreless soccer by both squads, the final victor of the Class B-2 quarterfinal between No. 2 Southwestern (14-1-2) and No. 7 Fredonia came down to 10 players and two goalies.
"We got down towards the end of overtime and I asked (assistant coach) Jim Beresford to give me an idea of who he thought should (take the penalty) kicks and we had almost the same lists," Sleggs said. "But you just don't know what's going to happen. This is a sport where (the coach) has very little control. This is one of the few sports that I've coached where really you've just got to trust."
And on Friday, the Trojans rewarded that trust.
Fredonia's Julius Woma took the first penalty kick on Southwestern goaltender Eric Priester and sent a low shot that slid just underneath the diving junior. Now trailing 1-0, Southwestern's Ross Beresford attempted to tally the equalizer, but goaltender Nick Hart made a good read and managed to block the shot.
Up came Fredonia's Matt Civilette who, with one more goal, could all but clinch the victory. Priester, however, bouncing on the balls of his feet to stay ready, ranged right to block the shot and keep his squad alive.
"I just had to trust myself and trust my practice," Priester said. "I just followed the ball off his foot. I don't know if it was luck or what."
Tristan Desnerck, Justin Loverme and Aidan Lang hit the next three penalty kicks, making the score 3-2 in favor of the Trojans. It was then that Priester came up big yet again, making the save on Matt Sheridan which, following Tanner Hoose's goal on the ensuing kick, meant that Fredonia had to score on it's fifth and final kick to keep the game going. Kaleb Martinez's shot sailed over the crossbar, however, and the entire Southwestern squad converged on Priester in celebration.
"Eric came up huge with those saves," Sleggs said. "He had missed a game (a few weeks ago) and I think he really wanted to make an impact. I think he really stepped up and made a statement that he was going to be there for the guys."
Sleggs was especially impressed, after watching his team be denied multiple scoring chances throughout the game by a solid Fredonia defense and Hart, with his team's ability to keep fighting until the end.
"We've been through so much and to be able to keep this going - I can't explain it right now," he said. "I think it's a testament to the kids because most teams could have easily made an excuse to fold up. They found a way to persevere. We talked about Don Meyer the other day - his auto accident, the cancer and having three heart valves replaced - and he's still in Wyoming giving talks. He's just a butt-kicker and we want to try to model that in terms of never giving up.
"Regardless of how this thing ends up, if they learn anything about perseverance and sticking with things we've done our job. This game had a lot of life lessons in it, for both sides."
According to Fredonia coach Jeff Walker, he couldn't have gotten a better effort from his squad, which saw their season end with an overall record of 10-7.
"They played some of the best soccer we've seen them play all year," he said. "We played a great game, they played a great game. Both teams played their hearts out and it came down to penalty kicks. It's a heart-breaking (way to end it), but it's part of soccer. Somebody has to win."
The victory vaults Southwestern into the sectional semifinals against No. 6 Tonawanda, winners over No. 3 City Honors on Friday afternoon, 2-1, on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at All-High Stadium.
"We scouted them," Sleggs said of Tonawanda (11-6-1). "(We) watched them play so we've got a lot of notes. We'll meet in my classroom tomorrow to go over the notes and then we're going to go up there and see if we can't get to the finals."