After getting off to the second slowest start in program history with a 3-3-2 record in the first seven games, the Southern Poly Men’s Soccer team found their stride and matched their success from the previous year by winning the SSAC East Regular Season Championship and making it back to the Sweet 16 in the NAIA National Tournament. They ended the season with a 12-5-3 record and 6-0 in the SSAC East and Senior Eric Ati set a new program high by becoming the first player to receive All-American 2nd Team Honors.
“It was one of the slowest starts I’ve experienced here at Southern Poly and we just couldn’t figure it out. We weren’t playing bad soccer, we were playing a very tough opening schedule and came up a little short a few times.” said Head Coach Kom Momeni. “We needed our seniors to step up and lead us in the right direction and they did just that” added Momeni. After their 3-3-2 start, Southern Poly opened their 2010 SSAC Conference season with a convincing 3-0 win at Emmanuel College. They continued their in conference dominance by winning the next five SSAC Conference games scoring 21 goals and conceding four in their six game winning streak. This led to their second consecutive SSAC Regular Season Conference title, this year claiming the SSAC East Conference as the conference has split into East and West divisions. It was also the second consecutive season Southern Poly went undefeated in regular season conference play, increasing their SSAC regular season winning streak to 16 games, dating back to October 8, 2008. Making the SSAC All-Conference team was Goal Keeper, Eric Ati, Defender, Daniel Oyugah, Midfielder, Sean Grisham, and Forward, Emeka Maduka. Sophomore, Defender, Marcos Mendez earned All-East Division honors.
With their #1 seeding in the conference tournament, they hosted Spring Hill College, the #4 seed from the SSAC West in the first round of the SSAC Tournament. Southern Poly handled them in convincing fashion winning 3-0 and advancing to the SSAC semi-finals for the second consecutive year, where they faced nationally ranked #6 Belhaven University. Southern Poly put on a spectacular performance outplaying Belhaven for 110 minutes before going in to a penalty kick shootout, to decide who would advance to the finals and earn the automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament. After the 0-0 stalemate in regulation and two overtimes, Ati put in a brilliant performance by saving two of the four penalties and getting his hands to a third. All four Southern Poly players finished their chances guaranteeing the Hornets a trip back to the national tournament. In the SSAC finals, Southern Poly met University of Mobile and after a hard fought match, where they outshot the Rams, lost 2-0. Making the SSAC All-Tournament team was Seniors Eric Ati and Christian Castillo and Sophomore, Marcos Mendez.
With their entrance into the NAIA National Tournament, Southern Poly drew the defending and eight-time National Champions, Lindsey Wilson College. “Lindsey Wilson is one of, if not the strongest NAIA soccer program in the country. Year after year they set the standard for what an NAIA program should strive to achieve” said Momeni. Southern Poly traveled to Kentucky and put on another great performance. Castillo made the most of his two opportunities and netted his fourth and fifth goals of the season. When the 90 minutes ended, Southern Poly had knocked off the defending national champions and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.
In the Sweet 16, Southern Poly drew Holy Names University from California. They traveled to Gulf Shores, Alabama for the NAIA National Tournament finals and fell short in the opening match for the second consecutive year. Again outshooting and dominating their opponent, they lost 1-0. This time, with 26 seconds left in the second overtime period, ending another successful season, yet coming up short on expectations. When the end of the season awards came out, Eric Ati earned NAIA 2nd Team All-American honors, the first in Southern Poly history. Previous All-American honorees were both honorable mention, and received in 2009 by Emeka Maduka and in 2008 by Mamadou “Futty” Danso.
“It was another great season. Starting off so slow certainly made us rethink things, so we made a few small changes and reorganized ourselves. The team pulled it together and showed their quality of character by not giving up” said Momeni. This senior class has four players that were on the original Southern Poly team. They have dedicated the last four years of their lives to Southern Poly Soccer. “Eric Ati, Ryan Black, Stephen Herget and Daniel Oyugah have all been here for four years and have been truly committed to helping start a program with deep soccer and academic roots. They have set the standard for future players here and the legacy they have left behind is truly a great one. Our two other seniors, Christian Castillo and Abdi Hassan, have also had a very positive impact on this program. All six will be missed and referred to for years to come, when positive examples are needed,” said Momeni.
In the last two seasons, SPSU has only lost one game to a team that did not make the national tournament. They have lost seven games, two to a Final Four team, four to Final Eight teams, and one to a Sweet 16 team. “Our schedule has been very good the last two years. We are striving to get better each and every year, and we feel that our experiences this year helped us achieve that goal,” added Momeni.