The last time the Hunter Wolverines and West Panthers met on the pitch, the Panthers came away with a 4-2 victory on the road.
So when the Wolverines traveled to downtown Salt Lake City to face West for the second time this season on Friday afternoon, Hunter head coach Brett Solberg felt that his team may be in for another difficult test.
But when the final whistle blew, Solberg looked up at the scoreboard and saw a result he didn’t expect.
By a final score of 6-2, the Wolverines thrashed this year’s Region 2 champions, handing West its worst defeat of the season in statement-worthy style.
“At the end of the day they’re still going to be the region champions, but we still wanted to make a statement that said we are still a competitor in this region,” Solberg said.
“We knew coming in against them it was going to be a tough battle, so I tried to prepare the boys to be ready to come out swinging from the start, and they did.”
Following the admonition of its coach, Hunter wasted no time getting to work, as Jonathan Hernandez headed home a corner kick from Alejandro Munoz in the 11th minute.
Then, just seven minutes later, Bryan Aguilar slotted home a right-footed shot in the bottom-left corner of the goal to deal the Panthers a quick 2-0 deficit — fairly unfamiliar territory for West, which entered the game 8-1 in region play.
“They probably thought we were going to come out with the same intensity (as the last time we played),” Aguilar said, “but right as we got the ball, we attacked fast and constantly, put them under pressure and they just took too long to settle in with the pace we were playing at.”
A tap-in goal in the 34th minute from Adi Cefo gave Hunter a 3-0 lead going into halftime, but the scoring didn’t stop there.
Within the first seven minutes of the second half, Aguilar scored his second goal of the game, and Munoz converted a penalty kick goal to give the Wolverines a whopping 5-goal lead with 33 minutes still to play.
Solberg said that Aguilar normally takes on a role as a facilitator for Hunter, but the senior appeared to lace on his finishing boots for Friday’s game.
“When I saw (the shots) go in, it felt amazing because I don’t really score,” Aguilar said.
West managed to pull a goal back in the 58th minute off a header by Christian Rodriguez Lara, but 12 minutes later, Hunter nullified that score thanks to a calm penalty kick finish from Alejandro Rauda that made it a 6-1 game.
Javier Martinez chipped in a goal from a difficult angle in the game’s closing minutes to give West its second score, but by that point the outcome of the game had already been long determined.
The game wasn’t pretty for the Panthers, but the result will go down as one of the few blemishes on their resume.
Already crowned champions of the region, West fell to 9-3 on the season but will still be vying for a chance at a top-10 seed in the state tournament.
Though there were no region implications in the match for Hunter, Solberg said that the team played for pride and for a chance to improve itself before the state tournament.
“We’ve got playoffs in a couple weeks and this is the highest ranked team left on our schedule, so the best way we can prepare for state is by making a statement against the No. 1 team in our region,” Solberg said, adding that his players were motivated by their friendly rivalry with West’s head coach Conner Mitchell, who was an assistant coach for Hunter last season.
Having only one preseason game to prepare, the Wolverines started the season slow but have found their groove in their last few games.
With Friday’s win, they have won four of their last five matches by an aggregate score of 18-3.
“Our chemistry and our momentum took a while to develop,” Aguilar said, “but once we found our pace and our rhythm, that’s when we started to realize what we can do … Now that we have those things, we have to keep coming out strong and fast.”
Even though Hunter will go in as a double-digit seed when the state tournament starts on May 13, the Wolverines’ current form will make them a tough out for anyone who draws them.