By Jeong Park
Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer now boasts three Big West Conference championships and NCAA tournament bids in the last four years.
The team’s past four Big West championship games — including one loss — were all close.
A double overtime win in 2014. A 1-0 win in 2015. A double overtime loss in 2016. A penalty kick win in 2017.
“It’s nerve wrecking,” head coach George Kuntz said. “Everybody’s on the edge of their seat.”
CSUF (10-7-4, 5-4-2 in Big West) defeated UC Davis 4-3 in penalty kicks on Saturday to clinch the Big West Tournament Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship.
The team will travel to Stockton to play Pacific on Thursday, Nov. 16 in the first round of the tournament. If the team wins, it will advance to play Stanford on Sunday, Nov. 19.
The whole season has been a roller coaster, with injuries to multiple key players and a tough early schedule that had the team give up five goals each time in losses to Portland and to UC Santa Barbara.
The injuries brought constantly shifting line-ups that made the team lose its chemistry and rhythm, Kuntz said.
“I am glad that I didn’t live by a bridge at that moment because I was really, really depressed,” Kuntz said. “You start asking questions: ‘What can I do better?’”
Some key players struggled as well. Redshirt senior forward Samuel Goni, studying kinesiology, had only two goals in the team’s first 12 games after coming back from an ACL tear he suffered in 2016.
“I didn’t feel confident,” Goni said.
Kuntz arranged what he described as a huge mid-season pow wow with his team, urging it to play together as a team and trust each other.
He said the team responded very well to the meeting, finding its spark especially after key players started returning from their injuries. The team eventually clinched the No. 1 seed in the Big West South Division.
Goni went on to score seven goals in the next nine games, including a goal in the Big West semifinal against UC Riverside.
“Coaches gave me more confidence and more playing time,” Goni said. “I was playing better.”
Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that the Saturday’s game was packed with twists and turns.
Two key defenders — senior Corentin Ohlmann and junior Michael Lopez — did not play because of card accumulation.
But sophomore goalkeeper Paul-Andre Guerin, studying business, made several key defensive plays with his six saves, including a one-handed…