TMU Insider: Mustang men’s soccer learns lesson about focusing on the present from ’09 national runner-up team

TMU senior Benji Tembo recently said the Mustangs might have talked too much about NAIA nationals. A renewed focus on the here and now helped deliver a crucial win over No. 16 Menlo on Saturday. Photo by John Duncan.

Jim Rickard makes sure not to overdo it. The longtime Master’s men’s soccer coach doesn’t want to reference his 2009 team every time his current squad is in a bind.

But that 2009 club, the one that won a regular season conference title and advanced to the NAIA national title game, in many ways set the standard for Mustang soccer.

So, as Rickard gathered a group of seven or eight players in his hotel room for a meeting Thursday night after a pair of head-scratching losses, he talked to them about being ready when game-changing moments arose, he asked for feedback and he pointed them to the team that went further than any other in program history by keeping its eyes fixed firmly on the ground beneath its feet.

“We literally never thought about the next day,” Rickard said of the 2009 team, which ultimately lost 1-0 to Lindsey Wilson College in the final. “I don’t know if it was me or just the way we were. We just literally thought, ‘This could be our last game, and let’s give it everything we have.’”

That, Rickard told his audience, was where the 2018 Mustangs stood. All that mattered was a matchup with No. 16 Menlo College in Atherton two days later.

Master’s responded by beating the Oaks, 3-1, behind goals from Benji Tembo and Valencia High grads Dylan Bielanski and Luis Garcia Sosa.

Tembo, the reigning Golden State Athletic Conference Player of the Year, said there was plenty to take away from Rickard’s talk as the Mustangs prepare for a showdown with No. 25 Westmont on the road Saturday and, more specifically, when the team takes on three unranked opponents to round out the regular season.

TMU (10-4 overall, 2-2 GSAC) is 4-0 against ranked teams this year. All four of its losses have been to teams outside the NAIA Top 25.

“Coach said he never thought the 2009 team would go that far,” Tembo said. “They took each and every game seriously and kept their focus on the following game. With our team, maybe we talked a lot about nationals, worrying about the future. We need to focus on what we have right now. We should take every game seriously, one game at a time.”

Easier said than done.

The GSAC’s regular-season winner this year will advance directly to the NAIA’s round of 16. And despite a 2-2 record thus far, the Mustangs remain firmly in the mix.

Master’s is one point back in the standings thanks to a 2-1 win in double overtime over then-No. 12 Vanguard University in its conference opener and Saturday’s win over Menlo.

After losses to Arizona Christian and William Jessup, what made the difference against Menlo?

“Focus,” said defender Cameron Molyneux. “Focus on working hard, focus on winning. A fire and passion to win.”

Said Tembo, “I feel like when we’re playing ranked teams, we get fired up. We know we have to work super hard to win the game, so most of the games we end up outworking our opponent. We play quick, too.”

The Mustangs will quickly be faced with another ranked foe. Master’s will travel to Santa Barbara on Saturday to play No. 25 Westmont College (5-4-2, 1-2), a deep squad with a trio of dangerous offensive threats.

Tembo said Master’s isn’t lacking confidence.

“Our mindset right now is good, we’re fired up, we’re very happy with the win at Menlo,” the midfielder said. “It shows that when we work hard and outwork our opponent, we can beat them at their place. We’re all excited and ready for the challenge.”

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