The Gillette College men’s soccer team’s season has been a roller coaster so far. However, the Pronhorns can finally puff out their cheeks, because their playoff berth has been secured.
The up-and-down season started with an impressive 6-0-1 start through the first three weeks, then the Pronghorns dropped five straight games to put their playoff hopes in jeopardy.
Three of those losses came to top teams in the region, including Laramie County Community College, which is 9-0 in Region IX.
Bad fortune also was on Gillette’s side during the skid with a 1-0 double overtime loss thanks to a deflected goal by Trinidad State.
Coach Saber Garcia and sophomore attacker Jordan Milby said a lack of heart has contributed to the losing streak. The Pronghorns had been outscored 19-1 over the five-game stretch, including 6-0 and 7-0 losses to LCCC and Northeastern Junior College, and their backs were squarely against the wall.
“I didn’t think we’d ever make playoffs after those two games, losing 7-0 at NJC and 2-1 at (Western) Nebraska,” sophomore Isaack Shire said. “But coming back from there, we had a good week of practice and our mindset was, ‘We’re a better team than this and we have a chance to make the playoffs.’”
Gillette had a division record of just 1-5 with four games left in the season and was sitting outside the top eight that make the Region IX Tournament. At that point, Garcia and his players went into a win-or-go-home mindset.
Fortunately, the Pronghorns still had a chance to control their own destiny with games against four of the other five teams at the bottom of the standings. They proceeded to beat Northwest 3-1 and then Central Wyoming 5-1 in a two-day span, then had to suffer through a day of uncertainty after Saturday’s loss to Central Community College while the standings updated.
“When we went down to Central, we really needed to win that game, because that would’ve made sure we were in the tournament,” sophomore Shey Rearick said. “We thought losing that one cost us the tournament.”
However, Gillette College received some outside help when Northwest College, Central Wyoming College and Western Wyoming Community College all failed to pick up wins last weekend, leaving them all with just one division win.
With a single game left in the regular season, that means the Pronghorns (3-6) can’t be caught by any teams lower in the standings. They have officially weathered the storm and are off the playoff bubble.
“That was a tough go, the five losses that we took in a row. It put a lot of pressure on us as a team, but we came together and beat Northwest. That really turned things around for us,” Rearick said. “We just dug deep within ourselves and pushed through and we got here. We made it.”
Now that the dust has settled, the Pronghorns know they’re going to the playoffs. The only question is how high they will move up in the seeding before the tournament starts Oct. 26.
A win Saturday could mean the difference between just making the tournament and possibly making a run. Two other teams have three wins and the Pronghorns have a chance to pass both.
Central Community College’s regular season is already done with a division record of 3-5-2 and the other three-win team is Sheridan College — Gillette’s opponent for the final game of the regular season. The Generals are 3-5-1 in the division, so a win for the Pronghorns would vault them past both teams into the sixth seed.
“We know who we’d play if we lost. We’d play LCCC in the first round at their home,” Rearick said. “It helps a little bit knowing that we’re in the tournament, but we would really benefit from that win if we could pull it out against Sheridan.”
Gillette College won’t be shy on motivation Saturday on its home turf. A victory would mean facing Otero Junior College or Trinidad State in the first round instead of Laramie County, but there also are bragging rights on the line.
Sheridan and Gillette’s annual game is called the NWCCD Cup and Garcia said his team wants to keep the traveling trophy at the Pronghorn Center for another year.
The Pronghorns have ensured that Saturday won’t be their final game of the season, but Shire wants them to continue to play as if their backs are against the wall.
“Every game from now on, it matters. It’s playoff time. From here, everything counts and that’s what every player’s mindset is on right now,” Shire said.
Pronghorns women’s team
The Gillette College women also wrap up their regular season Saturday against Sheridan College. The Pronghorns locked up a playoff berth weeks ago and their 8-1 record in the division ensures they’ll enter the Region IX Tournament as the No. 2 seed.
The women’s game is scheduled for 4 p.m., following the men’s game at 1 p.m.