Westmont College’s soccer team overcame fire with fire Monday. The Warriors, whose coach and several players lost their homes to the Tea Fire four days earlier, put forth a blazing effort at both ends of the pitch and defeated Azusa Pacific 2-0 for the championship of the Golden State Athletic Conference.
The Warriors went into the GSAC tournament ranked sixth among eight teams. Their only hope of reaching the NAIA national men’s championships was to finish on top. They got there by upsetting third-seeded Vanguard 3-2; second-seeded Concordia 1-0; and Azusa Pacific, the defending national champion.
Westmont is seeded 11th in the NAIA field of 31 and will host Holy Names (14-3) on Saturday (Nov. 22) at a site to be determined. The Westmont campus will be closed until Nov. 29 while the Tea Fire debris is cleaned up.
The devastating fire gutted the home of Dave Wolf, the Warriors’ soccer coach and athletic director, as well as the rental home of senior midfielder Jonathon Schoff and the dorm room of freshman defender Zach George. Both players figured in Westmont’s scoring Monday.
The Warriors broke a scoreless deadlock early in the second half when Schoff played a ball to Harrison Hill at the near post, and the sophomore forward put it away. Schoff got his second assist in the 72nd minute of the game. He headed a long pass from George to junior midfielder Hugo Pizano, a former standout at Dos Pueblos High and SBCC. Pizano blasted the ball into the goal from the top of the box.
The 2-0 score stood up, as junior goalkeeper Justin Etherton kept the Cougars at bay with seven saves.
Azusa Pacific agreed to postpone the game from Saturday to allow the Warriors to regroup after the fire. Wolf expressed his gratitude to the school. He called the Cougars, coached by his younger brother Phil Wolf, “without a doubt the best team in the country” over the past five years and said it took an inspired effort by his Warriors to prevail.
Westmont won its 562nd soccer game the most in NAIA history and clinched its 17th trip to the national tournament. Dave Wolf is the Warriors’ winningest coach with 241 wins in 18 years.