Eric West has vivid memories of Oct. 1. That was the day of the victory over Muhlenberg, when it all came together for Johns Hopkins' soccer team.
"We had a large crowd that was really into the game," West said. "We were the underdogs, but we had the advantage of playing on our artificial turf, where we were unbeaten. We were kind of nervous, yet confident, too."
The Blue Jays were confident primarily because they had West. A freshman striker from Mechanicsburg, Pa., West already was the team's leading scorer when he scored the second-half goals that beat Muhlenberg, 2-1.
The victory triggered the nine-game winning streak that Hopkins will take into the first round of the NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional tournament tomorrow in Allentown, Pa.
The third-seeded Blue Jays will face No. 2 Elizabethtown (19-3), which is making its Division III-record 19th tournament appearance. Top seed Muhlenberg (17-1) will play No. 4 Carnegie Mellon (13-3-1) in the other game, with the winners meeting Saturday.
In its second year under coach Matt Smith, Hopkins soccer has made a dramatic turnaround. Inheriting a team that was 3-13-1 in 1992, Smith directed the Blue Jays to a 9-6 record in 1993, 13-2-3 this year. Hopkins has scored more goals (42) this season than in the two years combined (36) before Smith's arrival. This is Hopkins' first NCAA tournament appearance since 1986.
The catalyst has been West. With three goals in the final regular-season game against Franklin & Marshall, West raised his goals to 21 and his points to 46, breaking the school single-season records in both categories set by Greg Cunningham in 1975.
"Eric has a passion for scoring," Smith said. "If he doesn't score, he feels he didn't leave enough of himself on the field. He has the ability to appear into a space where the ball will be, a play or two ahead of time."
Instead of employing two strikers, as he did last season, Smith uses only one, West. The Blue Jays' circulating, five-man midfield helps West become isolated on a defender.
"When Eric is one-on-one, there aren't many scorers as good as he is," Smith said. "He can shoot from outside as well as inside. He had a 35-yard goal that beat Swarthmore."
Before West arrived, all Smith knew of him as a soccer player was what he saw on Cumberland Valley High game tapes. With 32 goals, West was the third-leading scorer on a team that was undefeated until it lost in the first round of the Pennsylvania state tournament.
"I knew Eric could play here, but I didn't know his contribution level," said Smith, a former Towson State player and assistant coach. "I thought Eric could start, yes. But 21 goals? I couldn't imagine that as a freshman."
West came to Hopkins in part because his brother, Mark, a basketball player, preceded him. West said he had little interest in Division I schools because he didn't want to sit for three years and play only as a senior.
"I was part of Mark's life here, but I came mainly for soccer and academics and because Baltimore is a great place to be and not far from home," said West, who is considering a double major in engineering and economics.
Like Smith, West never anticipated a 21-goal season. It may be even better than that, if all goes well tomorrow in Allentown.