OSU Reached New Heights In 2002

Jan. 3, 2003

CORVALLIS, Ore. - -

The 2002 soccer season held unprecedented success for the Oregon State men's squad.

After posting a school-record 13 wins, the team found itself in a postseason matchup at No. 22 Portland, marking the first NCAA College Cup appearance in the program's history.

That season-long success was tempered by the loss of two teammates however: Stephen Hensor passed away after a year-long battle with liver cancer on the day the Beavers opened their season, and Joe Zaher sustained fatal injuries in a car accident on Dec. 1.

Two weeks before he died, Zaher scored what would be the team's final goal of the year against California - OSU's last hurdle before reaching the postseason.

The Beavers' tournament fate rested on the regular season's final game, a matchup that pitted Cal - No. 6 at the time - against OSU in Corvallis.

OSU (13-8-0 overall, 4-6-0 Pacific-10) came through on the strength of two Aaron McHardy goals - one early and one late - and another by Zaher to give the Beavers a 3-0 upset that propelled them into the postseason.

The most noticeable reason for OSU's ascension this year was its offensive production. It quickly became evident that the 2002 edition could put shots in the back of the net much more efficiently than in years past. Simply compare the team's 47 goals in 2002 to the 23 of a year before and 26 in 2000.

To note: in OSU's second game of the year against Air Force, the Beavers got a glimpse of what lay ahead when Joe Zaher and Alan Gordon scored two goals apiece to lift the Beavers to a shorthanded 4-2 win on Sept. 6.

After a loss to Wisconsin two days later, OSU reeled off a school-record seven straight wins en route to a 9-1 start - the best ever in the 15-year history of the program. That streak included wins over Tulsa, which was ranked No. 12 at the time, and Portland.

'You always hope for something like that - you need to be optimistic,' Fourth-year head coach Dana Taylor said of the team's strong start. 'You always hope to start the season well, especially going into Pac-10s. You need to start off on fire and take advantage of the opportunities that you have early on. But you also need to be realistic as well.

'I thought if we came out 6-3 or 7-2, that would have been a great start to build on.'Also included in that run was a three-game, five-day trip to New York, where the Beavers went 3-0 in outscoring Marist, Siena, and Albany by a combined 12-2.

'To be 9-1 - and I look at that one game (a 2-1 loss to Wisconsin) and I thought we could have won that game - I was extremely happy,' Taylor said. 'That set us up for what we needed to get done in Pac-10s.'

Heading into the Pac-10 schedule, OSU ranked among or near the top 20 nationally in scoring for much of the non-conference schedule, and junior forward Alan Gordon ranked among the nation's scoring leaders at times as well.

Opening the Pac-10 slate with three road games, the Beavers hit a speed bump, dropping a 5-0 match to California before bouncing back with a solid performance in a 1-0 overtime loss to then-No. 1 Stanford in the Bay Area.

'That was partially my fault for not having the guys prepared,' Taylor said of the loss to Cal. 'We said it was going to be a hard game, but we needed to get on a faster surface and play on AstroTurf to really prepare for (Cal's) faster surface. We didn't get there, and that was my fault.

'That was a wakeup call for us, but it wasn't the end-all be-all game,' Taylor said. 'What people didn't realize was that in that game, we hit the side net in the first minute-and-a-half and missed a breakaway to potentially be up 2-0. Once they got their form, they rolled us.'

Showing its resiliency, OSU bounced back on the road with its first-ever defeat of Washington by a count of 3-2, ending a 17-game winless streak against the Huskies. It was the first of two victories over the Huskies in 2002; OSU topped UW 6-3 three weeks later in Corvallis to total a whopping nine goals in two games with Washington.

Back in the familiar confines of Lorenz Field at Valley Stadium, OSU played host to then-No. 4 and eventual NCAA Champion UCLA. The Bruins came away with a 3-0 win, but were peppered with 25 shots by the Beavers as OSU forced a Pac-10 high 11 saves from keeper Zach Wells. OSU's 25 shots were the second-most by a Pac-10 team in 2002. The Beavers had 26 - tops in the conference - in a 3-0 win over then-No. 12 Tulsa.

Two days later, five different Beavers found the back of the net and six players had assists in a 5-1 win over Fresno State as OSU improved to 11-4 overall and 2-3 in Pac-10 play.

Subpar showings a week later at Fresno State and UCLA dropped the Beavers to 11-6 and had OSU with its back to the wall in a home showdown with Washington, a game in which OSU trailed twice but scored the final four goals to salt away the 6-3 win. Alan Gordon recorded a hat trick and Chad Bartlome's three assists tied a school record.

With a postseason berth in sight, OSU faced No. 22 Stanford to open the regular season's final weekend. After the Beavers tied the match at 1-1 in the 21st minute, the Cardinal scored the final three goals to secure a 4-1 win and force the Beavers into a 'make-or-break' game with Cal on Sunday.

That loss meant OSU needed a win over No. 6 California - something the Beavers had not done in eight games since 1996 - to have a shot at its postseason goal.

Thanks to McHardy's two scores - an early goal and a late penalty kick to ice the game - and Zaher's tally, OSU came through in the clutch with a 3-0 win over a California team that finished the year 19th in the nation in goals-against average and 11th in shutout percentage. OSU's defense recorded its sixth shutout of the year in that game as well.

'In my mind, that game will always be the one I remember because it gave us our 13th win - a school record - and it got us into the tournament,' Taylor said.

'I knew we could play them a little bit tighter the second time around, and that's what the Pac-10 is all about - home and away.'

Making the program's first NCAA College Cup appearance, the Beavers traveled 90 miles north to the University of Portland to face the Pilots - a team OSU topped 2-1 in Corvallis earlier in the year - at Merlo Field in the first round.

Portland - 18th nationally in shutout percentage and 20th in goals-against average - held the Beavers scoreless despite OSU's quality chances early in the first half and late in the second. The Pilots put two scores on the board in a five-minute span late in the first half to claim a 2-0 win and end the Beavers' season.

The loss capped a roller coaster second half of the year for OSU, marked by explosive performances as well as matches that reminded many that this was a group with several new players that were still adjusting to one another's play.

'That (inconsistency in the Pac-10) was due to us having so many new players,' Taylor said. 'The Pac-10 is the best conference in the nation, and there is no denying that. You have two Pac-10 teams in the national championship game, and that proves how strong the Pac-10 is.

'Really, what it comes down to is that you have to be so sharp in every game you play in the Pac-10.

'The reason we were winning is that we became more mature,' Taylor said. 'Aside from that, I think the reason there were ups and downs is that it was such a new team. The core had been there, but looking through the starting lineup, you have first-timers in Alan Gordon, Ryan Johnson, Brian Farber, and Joe Zaher, and Daniel Smith and Matt Johnson were in-and-out.

'So you put all those people in the mix, and you're still in a position where you have to learn how each other plays. As the season went on, certain guys developed, and we had to push people around.'

Taylor credits much of the newcomers' success and development to the team's preseason trip to Costa Rica, a 12-day tour that featured seven games against tough Costa Rican competition.

'Our trip to Costa Rica was one of the mechanisms that truly bonded the newcomers into the team; it was amazing,' Taylor said. 'Without a doubt, it brought them together. If we hadn't had Costa Rica, the season wouldn't have come together the way it did. It was an amazing time of development for everybody.'

After seeing this team's capabilities, Taylor believes this group of players has the program set for continued success down the road.

'The table is set,' Taylor said. 'Whether we get back to the tournament or not will depend on how hard we work, but the pieces of a successful year are returning.'Yet underneath, we have an incredible cast of players that can support what we have. Couple that with, what I believe will be, one of the better recruiting classes in the country next year, and that makes the future bright.'

SCHOOL RECORDS SET

Oregon State wasn't shy when it came to rewriting the school record books and breaking new ground in 2002, topping several previous school bests.

Most notable were the school-record 13 wins, which bettered the previous standard of 12, set by the 12-6-2 1989 squad that played in the Northwest Colleges Soccer Conference. The level of competition in 2002 was dramatically different from 1989 - gone from the non-conference schedule are Puget Sound, Seattle, Trinity Western, George Fox, Evergreen State, and Warner Pacific. In are Air Force, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Portland, Cal-Riverside, and Tulsa.

The Beavers strung a school-record seven wins together from Sept. 13-Oct. 6, topping then-No. 12 Tulsa and Portland as well as sweeping a three-game road trip through New York State. The win streak boosted OSU to a 9-1 start - OSU's best ever.

Oregon State shattered the former school record of 124 points in a season, blistering the opposition for 133 points on 47 goals and 39 assists; the latter mark topped the former assist record - set in 1996 - by 11. The Beavers led the Pac-10 in points (+18), goals (+8), assists (tied), shots (+34), and saves (+9) during the regular season. The team's 288 regular-season shots were a school record; OSU ended up with 297 for the year.

The team also equaled the single-game assist record of six on three separate occasions - in a 5-0 win over Albany, a 5-1 win over Fresno State, and a 6-3 contest with Washington.

Peter Billmeyer broke the school's season saves record with 100, topping the record of 97 he set as a sophomore in 2001. He also set the career saves record with 254 after only his junior year.

Chad Bartlome's three assists in the second meeting with Washington tied a school record and was tied for the eighth-best total in the country at the time.

On his way to a team-leading 15 goals, which was the second-highest total ever at OSU, Alan Gordon set a school record with 73 shots.

Five Beavers ended the season with double-figure points: Gordon (34), Zaher (25), Aaron McHardy (22), Ryan Johnson (13), and Bartlome (12). Zaher scored the most points ever by an OSU freshman, and McHardy set the school record for career games played with 73.

NEWCOMERS' IMPACT

Of OSU's eight newcomers to play this year, four combined for 81 points. Alan Gordon led the team and Pac-10 with 34 points (15 goals, 4 assists), and the Joe Zaher had 25 (10 goals and 5 assists). Ryan Johnson and Matt Johnson tallied 13 (4 goals, 5 assists) and nine (3 goals, 3 assists) points, respectively.

Midfielder/forward Brian Farber started 18 games, often marking out the opponents' top player, and Daniel Smith started nine games in the back line and saw action in 19 games overall. Midfielder Ryan Samuelson and goalkeeper Matt LaMont saw action sparingly in their first year.

The following are Taylor's comments on the 2002 newcomers.

'Looking back on the season, Joe Zaher being Freshman of the Year is pretty amazing when you consider that two Pac-10 teams were in the national championship game,' Taylor said of the attacking midfielder. 'That shows that he was pretty special. We will never be able to replace Joe Zaher, it's just that simple. As a person and a player, we won't be able to replace him.

'Brian Farber helped us out in many different areas. He was, more or less, an unsung hero on the team. He did whatever we asked. His potential on the pitch is limitless if he really applies himself this winter and spring.

'Alan Gordon is a player that came in and led the Pac-10 in scoring in his first-year,' Taylor said. 'It took him half of the Pac-10 season to truly get on track. He wasn't in the best of shape when he came in, and it took him until the Pac-10 season began to really get in shape and to figure things out, and it took him half of Pac-10s to really figure out what the Pac-10 was all about.

'I really look for this kid to come out blazing next year,' Taylor said. 'I don't think anybody has seen what Alan Gordon can truly do yet. That's not putting pressure on him, but I truly believe he hasn't even hit his stride.

'Then you look at Ryan Johnson up front. He's a hard worker; he lost his composure at times, but has learned his lessons. Talent-wise, he has an immense amount of talent. He's going to be a mainstay and do some great things for us.

'Matt Johnson showed speed, the ability to break down opponents, and the ability to score, and he's only going to get better. The Pac-10 coaches liked him well enough to vote him honorable mention All-Pac-10.

'Daniel Smith, athletically, is incredible. He's got the speed, the ability to take balls in the air, and he's very good defending 1-v-1- he's just a little green. He needed a year under his belt of getting pushed around, but he's strong and he's going to be a mainstay on our team down the road.

'Ryan Samuelson is a guy who redshirted, but he will help us next year as well. Matt LaMont has his best days ahead of him, too.'

POSTSEASON HONORS

Seven Oregon State student athletes earned Pac-10 All-Conference recognition for their play in 2002, in addition to Dana Taylor being named co-Coach of the Year.

Taylor's honor, Zaher's Freshman of the Year award, and Gordon's first-team selection were the first such Pac-10 distinctions for OSU. Zaher was also a second-team selection.

Earning honorable mention were forwards Ryan Johnson, Matt Johnson, and Aaron McHardy, and defenders Kurt Ness and Christian vanBlommestein.

Billmeyer and McHardy earned first-team Pac-10 All-Academic honors, and Ness earned honorable mention.

McHardy also repeated as a first-team NSCAA Academic All-Region pick and earned Verizon second-team Academic All-America status, while Gordon and Zaher were third-team NSCAA all-region picks for their play.

PAC-10 LEADERS

OSU finished atop several Pac-10 regular-season team and individual statistical categories, including shots, points, goals, assists, and their corresponding per-game averages.

The Beavers averages of 14.4 shots per game, 6.65 points and 2.35 goals led the conference, and 1.95 assists per game was the only major category in which Oregon State did not lead the conference, finishing .10 behind UCLA. OSU also led in saves per game with a 4.95 mark.

Individually, Gordon led the league in shots (73), points (34), and goals (15), and McHardy and Zaher were no lower than seventh in shots, points, goals, and assists. Zaher also led the league with four game-winning goals. Chad Bartlome and Ryan Johnson also ranked among conference leaders in assists.

Billmeyer led the Pac-10 in saves for the second consecutive season, totaling 97 in the regular season and 100 overall. He was fourth with six shutouts.

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