Two days before the 19th annual NCAA soccer championships at Berkeley last week, somebody broke into the office of tournament director Bob DiGrazia, who is also the Cal soccer coach, and stole the championship plaque. The campus police, who reportedly have Ph.D.s in criminal psychology, wheeled up in their black-and-whites, sleuthed around a while, came upon a suspicious-looking trail of excelsior (in which the trophy had been packed) and eventually found the purloined plaque under a bush. DiGrazia was mightily relieved. He had been thinking that he might have to present the soccer winner with the NCAA water-polo trophy, which California had recently won and which, DiGrazia said, "looks about the same."
That possible embarrassment averted, the four teams that had come to Berkeley to settle the championship got down to business. Brown and Hartwick (of Oneonta, N.Y.), were on hand from the New England and New York regions, respectively; Southern Illinois-Edwardsville had pulled in from the Midwest, and the University of San Francisco, winner the previous two years and trying for an unprecedented third straight, had merely zipped across the Bay bridge to represent the Far West. Over Saturday and Sunday, these four displayed some of the best college soccer ever played, on a level that would have been impossible five years ago. Whether the "soccer boom" has trickled down or seeped up, it has evidently reached the colleges.
The two Eastern entrants had at each other in the first of Saturday's semifinals. Hartwick, ranked No. 2 in the nation with an 11-0-2 regular-season record, had finished third in the NCAAs last year, remarkable enough for a school with only 1,600 students. The Warriors have long been recognized as a hatchery for soccer talent, and now, as Coach Jim Lennox said, "It's our turn." Brown, with hopes of being the first Ivy League team ever to win the national crown, had scratched through the regular season at 7-4-2 and gained its ticket to Berkeley on the strength of an astonishing 2-1 upset of No. 1-ranked Clemson in a bitter, bloody and wild quarterfinal playoff battle the week before. The Cinderella Bruins turned out to be no match for the Warriors.
Hartwick is physically small—Captain and Midfielder Bill Gazonas, for instance, is just 5'5", 133 pounds—but the team is so well disciplined and balanced, so perfectly competent in ball-handling skills and so precise that it resembles an NASL team. It is a pleasure to watch athletes like Hartwick's midfield playmaker, John Young, fake his way through a trail of challengers with Pelé-like moves, or watch the pinpoint passing of Winger Tom Maresca.
December 12, 1977
The Bruins, however, drew first blood, scoring just 3½ minutes into the first period. Hartwick evened it up three minutes later when Young threaded through traffic to boom one in from 23 yards, and by halftime Hartwick owned the field. Perhaps Brown's suffering during the long afternoon was best glimpsed in the second half, when a crossing shot from Hartwick's Steve Long struck Brown Fullback Pat Weir on the foot and was deflected into the Brown goal. Weir fell to the grass, burying his head in the turf. When it was all over, Hartwick's bantam precisionists had won, 4-1.
As the temperature in Memorial Stadium climbed into the comfortable 60s, SIU and the USF Dons met to argue their side of the question. USF is essentially a two-section team. The defense consists of an Englishman plus three Norwegian imports who operate as a disciplined unit—huge, like Scandinavian pines in their green uniforms, the stolid stuff of team play. For scoring, the Dons have All-America "Amazing Andy" Atuegbu, a Nigerian who, along with fellow countrymen Tony Igwe and Alex Nwosu, roams the midfield and the forward areas waiting to explode in exotic and individualistic playmaking and scoring chances. Atuegbu's shot, which in an empty stadium sounds like a thunderclap, is the hardest in the NCAA and the backbone of the Dons' attacking game.
The Dons finished the regular season ranked No. 5 at 22-3-1, having played as many games as most colleges manage in two seasons. Coach Steve Negoesco thinks that's fine. "What I've done is good for us and the NCAA," he says. "I've given the boys a chance to travel extensively, to play instead of scrimmage. I've been criticized for overextending the kids, but that's baloney. So we play twice as many games as Brown. So what?" SIU's Cougars, 9-3-1 and unranked, got to Berkeley by outlasting Indiana and Cleveland State in the early playoff rounds, the two games involving a total of seven sudden-death overtime periods. Such luck would not work for the Cougars in Berkeley.
Less than halfway through the first period, although pressed by SIU's midfielders, Igwe took a throw in and dazzled the Cougars with a footwork display before putting a left-foot shot low into the right corner from 16 yards away, catching SIU Goalie Bob Robson out of position.
With about 18 minutes remaining in the game, SIU tied the score against the tiring Dons. Perhaps its heavy schedule had worn USF down, or perhaps it was the Cougars' tactic of making the Dons run to retrieve deep sideline passes. But in the ensuing sudden-death, 15-minute tie breaker, Forward Dag Olavsen, on a pass from Atuegbu, drove home the winner from eight yards out, and the Dons were in the finals with a 2-1 victory.
In the Sunday showdown, 16,500 fans—a record NCAA crowd—saw another superb soccer game, with Hartwick's nervous-looking goalie, Aly Anderson, rising again and again in the first half to repel USF's Nigerian specialists. But neither could the Warriors penetrate the Dons' solid defense.
At halftime, drinking coffee in the press box, Dallas Tornado Coach Al Miller, who had been Hartwick's coach from 1967 to 1972, shook his head over the scoreless contest. "This is the best defensive game I've seen in a long time," he said. "It will be lost by the side that makes the first mistake."
Just 2:40 into the second half, USF made that mistake and Hartwick was ahead for good. Taking a free kick placed deep and to the right of the USF goal, Duncan MacDonald, Hartwick's British-born winger, sent a high spinning kick across the goal mouth. Hartwick Midfielder Art Napolitano, all 5'10" of him, leaped into the air against Midfielder John Brooks and lashed a head shot toward the goal. In the follow-through the two cracked skulls and both went down in a heap, holding their heads as the ball rocketed high past San Francisco Goalie Peter Arnautoff.
The Warriors put in another goal 17 minutes later, and it took USF until the final four minutes of the game to score. And the Dons could not get a second. So frustrated was Olavsen that he picked up the ball with his hands in one goalmouth melee and tried to throw it in.
When Bob DiGrazia presented the purloined trophy, the Warriors finally showed some signs of smugness. Said a blasé Napolitano. "It wasn't even our best game. We were lousy in the first half." In the locker room, Hartwick players opened their champagne and one of them made a gesture to pour it over Lennox' head. "Don't do that," he said. "It's a waste. Let's drink it."