AZUSA, Calif. -- Senior forward Steven Lenhart recorded his first collegiate hat trick, then tacked on an insurance goal with less than 2 minutes to remaining to lead the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 4-2 victory over Cal State San Marcos in the Cougars’ 2007 home opener at the Cougar Classic Friday afternoon at the Cougar Soccer Complex.
Lenhart was issued a yellow card in the first 10 minutes of the game for his retaliation to the physical defensive tactics employed by Cal State San Marcos, and the senior captain took the opportunity to refocus his game. Just over 3 minutes later, Lenhart opened the scoring from 5 yards out when he touched in a cross from Ryan Cheek, giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead just over 13 minutes into the game.
“The whole game I just felt out of it, and I kept trying to push through it,” said Lenhart. “There wasn’t much that I did – every 1 of my goals was just a single touch. Everyone kicked the ball to me, and I was just trying to hit it in.”
Cal State San Marcos, a second-year NAIA independent program, was quick to respond, when Troy Skomra’s throw-in down the sideline set up a well-placed service from the left side from Felix Gonzalez-Dalmas. Chris Wyatt headed in the equalizer in the 16th minute, and the score remained tied at 1-1 heading into halftime.
Cougar head coach Phil Wolf used the break to let Lenhart and fellow senior captain Sven Simon, another first-half yellow card recipient, know in less-than-subtle terms exactly what was expected of them from an attitude and leadership standpoint.
“I’m disappointed in Steve and Sven,” said Wolf. “I thought they both should have been tossed in the first half, and they were fortunate not to. I got into them pretty big-time at the half.”
Wolf’s comments must have made quite an impact on the tandem, as it took less than 10 minutes into the second half for the pair to combine for the go-ahead score. Simon played a ball into space for Cheek, who crossed it from the left side, and Lenhart’s header gave the Cougars a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute. A minute and a half later, Lenhart came up with a takeaway in the penalty box and drilled a 10-yard strike that gave him his first collegiate hat trick and provided his team with a 3-1 cushion.
“Staying mentally focused was the main key for me,” said Lenhart. “I don’t play for myself, I play for the guys on my team. If I do something stupid, it affects them.”
Cal State San Marcos responded with another goal, this time off the foot of Gonzalez-Dalmas in the 61st minute. Bradley Seidenglanz sent a low line drive from the right side that made its way through several Azusa Pacific defenders to the front of the goal, and Gonzalez-Dalmas went low to the left of goalkeeper James Crawford, who got a hand on it but was unable to track it down before it rolled across the goal line, cutting the lead to 3-2 with nearly 30 minutes of regulation left.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed that we conceded 2 goals,” said Wolf. “That’s not what we’re trying to do here, but it’s a tough game to play when they concede so much of the ball to us. I was really disappointed with the second goal, because I felt like we let them back into the game. We have to do better in the back, that’s for sure.”
Simon drew a foul in the box at the 71-minute mark, but Cal State San Marcos goalkeeper Tashi Nakanishi correctly guessed where Simon’s penalty kick was headed, knocking the shot to his left away with a diving stop. Freshman Jordan Chrzan’s follow-up shot on the rebound sailed wide, saving Cal State San Marcos from immediate danger.
In the 79th minute, Nakanishi came up with another save of a Lenhart strike. The rebound was corralled by Simon, whose putback attempt was blocked by a Cal State San Marcos defender, and Cheek’s powerful 12-yard strike from the left side went just wide of the goal.
With Cal State San Marcos pressuring forward throughout the final 10 minutes, a simple foot in the path of a pass from the right side led to Lenhart’s final score. Senior midfielder Elijah Mwansanga intercepted a pass in tight coverage along the sideline and quickly fed it forward to Simon at the midfield stripe, where he lofted a pass over the last Cal State San Marcos defender to lead Lenhart into the penalty box. With Nakanishi well out in front of the goal to challenge, Lenhart lifted the ball easily over him for his fourth goal of the game.
“In games like this, you always need someone to take the chances,” said Wolf. “Let’s hope (Steve) has the knack, let’s hope that he can produce like that a couple more times this year.”
Lenhart and Simon combined for 15 of Azusa Pacific’s 21 shots, while Cheek and Simon each finished with 2 assists in the game for a Cougar squad that has peppered its first 3 opponents of the season with 70 shots. Azusa Pacific’s 17 goals in 3 games ties the second-highest 3-game scoring output to start a season in Cougar history. The 2005 squad tallied 19 goals in the first 3 games of that season, part of a season-opening 5-game winning streak.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 3-0 on the season, while Cal State San Marcos drops to 2-5. The Cougars host Corban (Ore.) Saturday at 3 p.m. to round out the 2-day Cougar Classic.
Prior to tomorrow’s starting lineup introductions, Azusa Pacific will celebrate the return of 6 of the 7 men’s soccer head coaches in the program’s 36-year history, including the program’s first coach, John Culp. Never before has there been such a reunion of Azusa Pacific head coaches for a single sport.
In Friday’s opening game of the Cougar Classic, Westmont (3-0) tallied 3 first-half goals and cruised to a 4-1 victory over Corban (Ore.) (2-1). Anthony Niboli scored the first 2 goals, and Johnny Alcaraz added his first 2 goals of the 2007 season for Westmont. Corban’s Ayouba Moussa scored Corban’s lone goal in the 70th minute.