By ROB WITHAM
H-P Sports Correspondent
Enjoying their best season start in over a decade, the Randolph-Macon men’s soccer team took the home pitch in Ashland Saturday afternoon drenched in sunlight and bathed in confidence after beginning 2017 with seven consecutive victories.
Awaiting them was Washington and Lee, the eighth-ranked team in the nation, who also happened to be Randolph-Macon’s first Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) opponent. And while the first half only saw one shot on goal from each team, the second half played out in entirely different fashion, with action from end to end, and plenty of scoring opportunities.
After the Generals built a 2-0 lead, then saw it slip away, their resolve after Randolph-Macon scored the tying goal gave them the chance to clinch the match, which they did, on a shot in the 83rd minute from outside the box for a 3-2 victory. The Yellow Jackets may be 0-1 in ODAC play, but their 7-1 season start overall has been a credit to not just hard work, but better understanding of the intricacies of the sport, better chemistry, and maybe most importantly, the ability and willingness to adapt.
“I’ve been coaching a long time, and when you get kids who are resistant, it’s frustrating. We coaches know what’s best and the players here understand that, which is good,” noted Yellow Jacket head coach Josh Laux. “Anything we ask them to do, they do, even if it sounds odd, some of the things we ask them to do.”
Saturday, the Yellow Jackets were tasked with knocking off a Top 10 team nationally, and the preseason favorite to win the ODAC. The first half was a complete stalemate, but the second half was a complete free for all.
The Generals broke the scoreless tie in the 51st minute as a shot off a rebound got past Brian Breslin for a 1-0 lead. Nine minutes later, Washington and Lee made it 2-0 thanks to a header off of a corner as Oliver Dolberg seemingly gave the Generals some insurance. But the Yellow Jackets did not flinch, instead, going on the attack themselves.
Just three minutes later, freshman Ruben Niamien was able to get a foot on the ball after a throw-in from Jake Tyler. Niamien pushed the ball past the Generals goalkeeper, as Tyler earned the assist to cut the margin to 2-1. Senior Brian Lutz also registered an assist by heading the ball down so Niamien could fire.
The most impressive part of the bounce back was the fact that, on both Washington and Lee goals, Randolph-Macon seemingly had solid arguments with officials on play prior to each tally.
Keeping their cool, the Yellow Jackets continued to push, and in the 80th minute, they would get another throw-in from almost the same spot on the pitch as the one that yielded a goal. History repeated itself as the throw-in created a scoring opportunity, but this time, Randolph-Macon would be the beneficiary of a General sending the ball into his own net trying to clear the throw-in. Confusion became celebration as Randolph-Macon had tied it 2-2.
But in the final act of this play, the Generals would be the ones to attack. Laux preaches the importance of play five minutes into any half, and five minutes after any goal. But the Yellow Jackets got caught defensively just 76 seconds later as Nick St. Pierre fired a shot from outside the box that found a seam, reaching the net, and eventually sealing the win.
Randolph-Macon outshot Washington and Lee 12-11, and had seven shots on goal to the Generals’ five. Impressively, Washington and Lee was never called offsides. Next for the Yellow Jackets is Randolph College, who earned three points with a 4-2 win over Eastern Mennonite to start ODAC play Saturday. With five of their seven matches in October on the road, the road to the ODAC Tournament will be difficult for the Yellow Jackets, no matter how they play. But Laux is confident that his men will be ready, and then some, beginning Saturday at 3:30 during Family Weekend against the Wildcats.
“We’re continuing to evolve as a program and a team,” Laux explained. “This was a good showing from us. We’re disappointed, we thought we could get a result in that game, no doubt, we’ve got to turn the page and get ready for Randolph. We like the challenge, so we’ll deal with it as it comes.”
Family Weekend events begin Thursday night as Randolph-Macon football hosts Shenandoah for their ODAC opener under the lights at a special start time of 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, the men’s soccer team faces Randolph at 3:30. Before that, women’s soccer will play Guilford at 1 p.m. with that match scheduled to take place on Day Field. Later that afternoon at 5 p.m. on Day Field, the Yellow Jacket field hockey team is in action hosting Bridgewater.