LOS ANGELES — Trailing 4-0 against No. 1 UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as the seconds ticked off the clock, the Elon University men’s soccer team was still fighting to breakup the shutout even with the game well out of reach.
In the 88th minute, Elon battled for a corner and while it couldn’t convert and the game ended in the 4-0 shutout, one thing stood out about Elon’s night: there was no quit in the Phoenix.
“Quitting is not an option,” said junior forward Jason Waterman. “It’s just not. A performance like that really shouldn’t have happened but quitting never can happen.”
The no-quit attitude showed up on film. UCLA knew what it was getting itself into.
“We watched their Clemson game and it was a good game for them. We saw they obviously had a lot of heart,” said UCLA senior midfielder Victor Chavez, who scored twice in the game. “They’re a good team. We didn’t know much but we definitely did our homework on them and knew they weren’t going to quit.”
“At half, (Elon head coach) Darren (Powell) pretty much to get our heads out of our you know whats and do what we were supposed to do,” said senior midfielder Daniel Lovitz. “There’s no quit in this team at all. We went for the ball until the last minute, which is something to be really proud of.”
At points of the game, Elon was the dominating team. Though the Bruins scored in the first 10 minutes of the second half, the goal was scored against the run of play. Elon had control of the match and was in search of its first goal looking to start the comeback attempt.
“Elon does a great job of staying in games through halftime and you saw that in the first half against Clemson, Clemson was probably the better team,” said UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo. “Right from the get go in the second half, Elon steps up the pace; steps up the intensity and they get their goal. We had seen video and we got scouting reports that Elon was a very good second half team. We felt like just because we’re here at home and it was our first playoff game, we needed to get on top early and we did.”
“If we had gotten one in the first 10 minutes of the second half then maybe we could’ve done something,” Powell said. “It just didn’t quite drop for us. We went for it, though, and when the guys are fighting to the last second with effort, that’s what counts.”
After the game, Powell’s tone was somber but upbeat. His team wasn’t dominated in any facet of the game except in the goal column — where it matters most. Elon fired 12 shots while UCLA mustered nine. Elon manufactured six corner kicks while the Bruins earned two.
“You can’t fault the guys,” Powell said. “Their effort and determination just to try to get back in the game was fantastic. We have to learn from these experiences and have to look to get better for when these opportunities come about again.”
Elon’s season came to an end in a place very few ever thought likely just three months ago: Drake Stadium in Los Angeles on the campus of the No. 1 team in the country.
“(This game) is really a statement of the intent of this program,” Lovitz said. “Each year obviously ends with a loss somewhere along the line, but you want to end it in the right place and against the right team. For the direction this program is going, you couldn’t pick a better place and a better team to lose against. Obviously, if we would’ve won this game, we would’ve turned a lot of heads and we still believe we could’ve if things had gone a little differently. This is just a learning experience. There’s going to be no more excitement about traveling places because we got it out of our system with this. It doesn’t get much better than going to Los Angeles and playing a Div. I second round game. It’s really just a dream come true seeing how my four years here have progressed. Obviously, having it culminate here is bittersweet, but a lot to be proud of.”
Lovitz, a captain on the team, helped bring the no-quit attitude to the Phoenix. He said that mindset doesn’t get left behind in Los Angeles because of the result.
“We got a lot of support and we really appreciate that,” Waterman said. “Whether it be our parents, all the people at Elon, all the students that came out to our game Thursday night against Clemson (University), that was so much fun. We obviously didn’t put on the performance we hoped to, but quitting just isn’t an option.”