By Nate Sanchez
The Runners capped off their regular season Saturday, Nov. 9 with a 4-3 win over the UNLV Rebels to clinch second place in the Western Athletic Conference standings. The Runners were down two goals early, but came back to get the precious win.
“It was a strange game,” Head Coach Simon Tobin said after the game. “We spotted them two goals in the first eight minutes. We have a good enough attacking team where we can score goals.”
Saturday’s match carried more weight than most of the Runners’ matches this year in that the Runners and the Rebels were both tied for second place. With the critical second seed in their possession, the Runners can look forward to taking on the lowly seventh seed Kansas City in the first round of the WAC tournament.
At the beginning of the season, the outlook for the Runners looked bleak, particularly for those who only paid attention to their record and average age. The young team, made up of 12 freshmen and five sophomores, started the season with three wins and six losses with a tie in the first 10 games.
In the first half of the season, the Runners were outscored 18-15 with three games in which they did not score a goal.
Since the season’s median, the Runners reversed their win-loss record, going 6-3-1. The Runners outscored their challengers 19-15 in the final 10-game stretch, only getting shut out once while shutting down the opposition twice.
Veteran leadership from senior defenders Scott Leudtke and Zayd Flores and senior midfielder Will Davis provided the balance this young team needed to grow into their game. Most of the revitalized offense that led to the second-half surge came from the new, young core of the Runner team.
Sophomore Eduardo Calzada has scored six of the Runners’ goals, including the two he scored during Saturday’s match. Freshman midfielder Jonathan Colunga’s now-potent presence has been nothing short of a meteoric rise to prominence on this team, scoring three times in the Runners’ last five games while recording three assists.
“He’s come on and worked hard, even when he wasn’t playing many minutes,” Tobin said of Colunga. “He’s been one of our most important players. His emergence on the team has coincided with a nice streak of form.”
The Runners will need to continue their good form as they begin tournament play on Thursday, Nov. 14 against Kansas City. The winner of that game will go on to play the winner of the third and sixth seed matchup of UNLV and San Jose State for the Semifinals.
Meanwhile, the winner of the fourth and fifth seed matchup of Air Force and Houston Baptist will advance to the semifinals to face Seattle University, who placed first in the conference and therefore won the bye week. The WAC Championship match will take place on Sunday, Nov. 17 at noon.The winner of the tournament will go on to the NCAA Tournament as the representative of the WAC.