The Castleton men’s soccer team had their hopes of an NCAA bid crushed last year, exiting the conference tournament after a heartbreaking one-goal loss to Lasell College. One year and eight impact newcomers later, the Spartans are determined to again contend for the NAC title this season. Third-year head coach Paul Werner has put together a well-balanced Castleton squad, which was picked for second place in the conference’s pre-season poll.
The Spartans opened up the new season away from home against Green Mountain College. In the first minute of play, a Castleton turnover led to a quick Green Mountain goal.
With both the fans and the score against them, the Spartans pulled through and tied the game up when sophomore Ryan Hahn scored off a rebound.
Castleton seemed to then get into its comfort zone and put three more in the net. Goals from senior captain Kurt Hunt, sophomore Matt Buhrke and a second from Hahn propelled the Spartans to a 4-2 win over their rival from Poultney.
After getting the season started with a win, the Spartans played host to Norwich College in its home opener. Both teams had opportunities to score early on, but simply couldn’t get anything past the goalkeepers. Castleton’s best chance to score in the first half came when Tyler Butterick’s breakaway shot was stopped by Norwich’s Jared Pagragan.
In the second half, Castleton had another chance at scoring when Kurt Hunt’s 18-yard strike was punched away from the net by Pagragan. With both teams aggressively looking to get on the scoreboard, the game started getting out of control with dirty playing. With five minutes left in the half, Norwich forward Rob Harlow tripped up freshman defender Nick Thomson to earn a yellow card.
The two teams kept their cool for the final minutes of the second half, but the score was still knotted at 0-0 going into sudden death overtime. A foul on Castleton goalie Ben Colona while a Norwich player was in the box resulted in a penalty kick for Norwich’s Drew Dilley.
With the game on the line, Dilley kicked it past Colona and into the net for a Norwich win.
“I felt like we wasted time in the first half lofting balls, but we came out strong in the second half and generated quality shots,” Werner said. “It was definitely an even match and one team’s break made the difference.”
The men’s team, after splitting the first two games of the season, had a very tough home game against St.Michael’s College. Castleton trailed 2-0 late in the second half before freshman forward Chris Hoagland scored off an indirect kick from fellow freshman Corey Robbins in the 86th minute.
Castleton tried desperately to tie things up, but St.Michael’s held on for the 2-1 victory.
Castleton fell to a record of 1-2 with the loss, but Werner is pleased with the way his team has played. “We’re playing a skillful brand of soccer,” Werner said. “While we might be out-muscled at times, we hold our own and will be a very good team at year’s end. The key to this season is winning the conference and clinching that NCAA bid.