Muhlenberg men’s and women’s soccer faced off against Johns Hopkins University, whose soccer teams were both ranked in the DIII preseason Top 25, over the weekend.
This past Saturday, both of Muhlenberg’s soccer teams drove down to Baltimore to square up against Johns Hopkins University in a doubleheader. Coming into the season, both the men’s and women’s Johns Hopkins soccer teams ranked in the top ten of the Division III top 25 preseason poll, with their men’s team ranked in the seventh spot, and their women’s team– the reigning 2022 Division III women’s soccer national champions– ranked number one in the country.
The men’s game kicked off first at 1:00 p.m., and for them, this was more than just another game. Last November, the mules defeated Johns Hopkins on the Blue Jays’ home field in a penalty shootout to capture their first Centennial Conference championship since 2014 and the team’s seventh in school history. As this was Muhlenberg’s first time back at the field where they were crowned champions nearly a year ago, the players were experiencing many emotions when they arrived.
“There was a lot of excitement going back to the field. Obviously, we created a great memory there so it was cool to feel some of that again. However, we had a job to do so we had to do our best to temper those emotions and focus on the game at hand. The one positive is that the experience gave us a level of familiarity we didn’t have the last time. We knew what to expect and were comfortable,” said Captain Zack Mikuta ‘24.
Regardless of any feelings the team had when they arrived at the field, they knew that this game could be their biggest challenge all season. Despite beating Johns Hopkins to win the Centennial championship last year, their team was still ranked higher than Muhlenberg in the 2023 Centennial Conference preseason rankings. Not only did the team know this was going to be a tough game, but they also approached the game knowing Johns Hopkins may certainly want to redeem their loss from last fall.
Mikuta commented, “It’s always tough to play [Johns] Hopkins. They never deviate from their game plan, and constantly keep you on your toes defensively. It’s never an easy 90 minutes, but I thought we did well to have our own identity and make it about us rather than them, which is something we’ve struggled with in past games. As far as them wanting revenge, they conducted themselves as if it was a normal game. I felt they could’ve had more fire, but I guess that’s a credit to their professionalism and focus as a team. We did well to bring our intensity and show that we’re the top team for a reason and we’re not going anywhere.”
When the final whistles were blown, the game finished as a 1-1 tie and the men’s team currently sits at an overall record of 3-1-1 (wins, losses and ties).
The women’s game began once the men’s game concluded, and just like the men’s team knew that their game was going to be a challenge, the women certainly knew that their opponent was also no joke. The Johns Hopkins women’s team has only lost a total of three games in the past three seasons.
However, this year’s Muhlenberg women’s team is much improved compared to last year’s. Despite four seniors graduating in May, this year’s team has won as many games through their first five games of this season, as the team did the entire 2022 season.
Center Midfielder Regina Russo ‘24 comments on what the team took away from their trip to Maryland. “Playing Hopkins showed us what to expect when playing in a top level conference. As we move through the early parts of the season, we have proved to ourselves that we are a more composed, organized and competitive team than last year. We are also a more possession based team this season and I think this will be the key to perform the best that we can. This match was our first chance to prove this to the rest of the conference. Even though we came up short, we still displayed signs of progress that we work to achieve everyday on the field.”
In their previous matchup before playing Johns Hopkins, the women’s team beat Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham 1-0, a team they lost to 5-0 last year. “It was a huge win for us, and was important for our team to see that tangible progress. We are trusting in the process, in our coaches, and in each other,” stated Team Captain Olivia Oberman ‘24.
Unfortunately, the women were unable to come away with a victory, and now have a record of 2-2-2. With one of their toughest opponents of the season in their rearview mirror, the team is working diligently towards future wins.
Oberman continues, “Despite not getting the outcome we had wanted, we did see a lot of progress from last year and created many highlights during play. We learned both that we have more work to do but also that the work we are doing is paying off in more ways than one. We are excited to get into conference play, not only to show how far we have come but to prove to ourselves just how far we can go.”
On Saturday, Sept. 23, the men’s and women’s soccer teams take part in another in-conference doubleheader. This time around, they face Dickinson College at home, with the men’s game kicking off at 1:00 p.m. and the women’s game at 4:00 p.m.