RIVERSIDE, Calif.—The loud, raucous roars resonated throughout UCR Soccer Stadium Saturday, Nov. 10 as Daniel Castaneda belted the deciding penalty kick past UC Davis goalie Jon Laughlin, giving the Highlanders their first Big West Conference Championship in school history.
The second the ball went past Laughlin to give UCR the win after a 4-2 decision in penalty kicks, fans stormed the field as the team began hugging and jumping up and down.
"It's incredible for our department, university, and city," head coach Tim Cupello said. "You could see and feel the energy from everyone in the stadium. The growth of this program and support, I can't tell you how great that support means."
Against Davis, the momentum shifted to the Highlanders after Robert Mejia belted the ball high during the Aggies second penalty kick and Matt Baringer had the team's third penalty kick blocked by UCR goalie Edwyn Gutierrez.
This all went down with a sell-out crowd on hand. Fans watched from corners of the stadium hoping to catch a glimpse of the action. Daniel Aguiree, who made UCR's first penalty kick and scored a goal in the team's semifinal match, was named the Big West Conference Tournament most valuable player.
"I'm happy about it, but I couldn't have done it without my teammates," Aguirre said. "I give a lot of thanks to them as well. "I knew what I could do and am just thankful that it turned out in our favor."
Throughout the game, UCR had a stout defense, allowing just three shots on goal and none in the two overtime periods.
"I saw a much more organized team," UC Davis head coach Dwain Shaffer said. "Tim's team is well deserving of winning the conference championship."
UCR had its chances in regulation, taking 13 shots, five of which we on goal.
"We didn't get the goal, but stayed mentally strong," Cupello said. "It was a fitting championship match."
This type of success took some time, with the team not getting its first win until the ninth game of the season. However, a tough non-conference schedule in which they played Michigan, Michigan State, and Cal, helped lead the Highlanders to a 4-2-1 conference record. That gave them a No. 2 seed in the tournament and a first round bye.
The team will now play Pacific in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday.
"The guys never thought of themselves as the underdog," Cupello said. "Maybe people on the outside thought that, but we didn't. As long as we work hard, that's all that matters."