The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 12, 2012

Bill Bowman's college sports column: Crusaders continue to make history


Daily Item

---- — If the last two weekends haven't been the best in the history of the Susquehanna men's soccer program, then someone is going to have to dig pretty deep into the record books to prove otherwise.

Not that it's been easy. But winning, at this level, never is. And, really, it's not supposed to be.

To accomplish things like Jim Findlay's Crusaders have so far this year -- a program record for victories in a season, a league title and now a birth in the Division III Sweet 16 -- you have to white-knuckle some things. The Crusaders may have taken it to the extreme a bit in their last four games, but they are ticking, and right now that is all that matters.

Let's start with two weekends ago. The Crusaders played host to the Landmark Conference tournament after some juggling due to ├╝berstorm Sandy. In the semifinal against Drew, Susquehanna waited until the 79th minute of a 90-minute game before Ryan Donlevie scored the game's only goal in a 1-0 victory.

In the final against rival Scranton -- the only team to hand the Crusaders a Landmark loss this year -- it took 98 minutes for Donlevie to find the net in overtime, a golden goal that secured SU's first bid to nationals in five years.

So it's safe to say that Findlay, already the all-time winningest coach in SU soccer history, got a couple of specks of grey from those two games, right?

Well, after Susquehanna was tabbed as one of the 16 hosts nationally for a regional, the Crusaders likely changed the tint of Findlay's hair some more.

See, even in the Landmark tournament Susquehanna felt pretty confident it was going to make the NCAA tournament. It was ranked inside the top 15 nationally and in the top 3 in the region.

Life is different in the NCAA tournament, however. It's a tight rope a mile in the air with no net to be found. One misstep in games where one goal is usually enough, and you are turning in the gear.

That is when you see what teams are really made of. It's when good seasons become great and when great seasons become legendary.

Against Cabrini in the NCAA opener late Saturday night, the tight rope frayed. The Crusaders, who have shattered the program record for shutouts in season, were two minutes away from the second round when the unthinkable happened: They kicked the ball into their own goal.

Really. That happened.

And that, sports fans, can tear your heart out. It changes momentum in ways you can't even imagine.

Susquehanna never wavered though, even when the game went into penalty kicks, if not the most nerve-wracking way to end a game in any sport, it is in the team picture.

The Crusaders never blinked, even after missing two of their first three kicks. Goalie Matt Salsman, an All-Landmark keeper from Selinsgrove, stepped up when he had to, saving two of Cabrini's final three shots to force the game into sudden death PKs.

The premise behind sudden death kicks: One makes, one misses, game over.

On the eighth round of kicks, SU's David Trank finished. Then Salsman got his shot to send the Crusaders to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. The shot drilled the crossbar and SU moved on, living to play another day when style points go out the window.

Survive and advance. Make history, 90 minutes at a time.

n Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college sports for The Daily Item. Email comments to bbowman@dailyite.com. Follow him at twitter.com/williambbowman.