AZUSA, Calif. -- If a 90-minute soccer game could be compared to a 100-meter sprint, the Azusa Pacific men’s soccer team raced out of the starting blocks at a record-setting pace for 20 meters before settling into a leisurely jaunt to victory. The NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars scored 3 goals and fired half of their 22 shots in the game’s first 21 minutes in a 5-1 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over Hope International.
Sophomore forward Vini Dantas scored 2 goals less than 6 minutes apart to spot Azusa Pacific an early 2-0 lead, and senior midfielder Reid Baker headed a corner kick across the goal line at the 21:01 mark to push the margin to 3-0. Sophomore forward Sam Sprauer one-hopped a 25-yard strike past the goalkeeper for a 75th minute goal, and sophomore forward Nathan Nienhuis answered the Royals’ 83rd-minute tally in the 88th minute for the final 5-1 margin.
The victory also served as a metaphor for another type of sprint, a 9-game winning streak to open the Cougars’ 2009 campaign that made first-year head coach Dave Blomquist the first in Azusa Pacific men’s soccer history to win his first 9 games at the helm. His predecessor, Phil Wolf, was the only other Cougar mentor who was unbeaten through his first 9 contests, although 2 of his first 9 contests ended in draws.
“I believe it was Sir Isaac Newton who said, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’,” said Blomquist, the ninth head coach in Azusa Pacific’s 38-year history of men’s soccer. “I would say that’s the case for me because of what I learned from Phil for 3 years on the bench next to him, not to mention the incredible program he left for me at Azusa Pacific. More credit goes to him and the coaching staff as a whole over the last 3 years than to me for anything I’ve done this year.”
Indeed, Blomquist earned his coaching stripes in what has become the golden age of Azusa Pacific soccer, a period in which the Wolf-led Cougars advanced to 3 consecutive NAIA title games and claimed the program’s first-ever NAIA championship in 2007. Blomquist was on the sidelines with Wolf for the 2006 and 2007 NAIA title games, and he even picked up 2 games of unofficial head coaching experience in 2008 when Wolf was out of the country completing a child adoption. Those games happened to be the final 2 contests of the regular-season, a pair of must-win games in which Blomquist guided the Cougars to victories to claim the program’s second straight GSAC regular-season crown.
“Going through the first 9 games and winning all of them is a statement to the quality of the program, past and present, as well as the quality of players who come to Azusa Pacific,” Blomquist said. “We had another good start today, creating some chances early on and getting the penalty awarded. That’s been something we’ve done in most of our games, starting well and creating chances, and that’s a great sign for our team.”
The 2006 campaign was Blomquist’s first as a collegiate assistant, a season in which Azusa Pacific’s 7-1-1 start skidded to a halt with consecutive 1-0 losses to Vanguard and Hope International, the latter dropping the Cougars to a 2-2-1 start to conference play in the Royals’ only win in 16 tries against Azusa Pacific. However, since that defeat, the Cougars have won 52 of their past 64 games, including a staggering 24-1-2 mark in GSAC contests.
“You remember history, either to try to repeat it or to avoid repeating it, and I think our seniors do remember that game (the loss to Hope International),” Blomquist said.
“That result just goes to show that in this game, and especially in this conference, a result can go any way. I think the lesson we learned that day was that a result doesn’t happen before the game starts, and I think our seniors recognize that and have tried to implement that in every game since. Whether we lost that game or not, we have focused on taking it one game at a time and trying to have our best performance every game, no matter who we’re playing against.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific is now 9-0 overall and 2-0 in GSAC play, while Hope International drops to 5-2-3 overall and 0-1-1 in GSAC play. The Cougars snapped the scoring streak of Royals freshman Edgar Bran, the conference scoring leader with 12 goals on the year, at 7 games. Azusa Pacific senior goalkeeper Tyler Stromberg made 7 saves in 77 scoreless minutes of action, and the Royals’ lone goal came as the result of a brilliant cross from the left side off the foot of junior defender Adrian La Farge. Perris Rowan lifted the ball forward from the top of the penalty box, and 5-foot-8 sophomore forward Franky Atonya finished the play with a bicycle kick from 6 yards out to cut Azusa Pacific’s lead to 4-1 with just over 7 minutes remaining in the game.
The Cougars continue GSAC play with a 1 p.m. visit to Point Loma Nazarene on Saturday, Oct. 3. Azusa Pacific’s last visit to face the Sea Lions in San Diego was a 1-1 draw that snapped a program-record 14-game winning streak and served as the only blemish on an otherwise perfect 2007 regular season before the Cougars went on to claim the 2007 national title.