CSU Pueblo men's soccer team goes furthest in program history

March 2, 2023
Ben Cason
Most of the players on the thunderwolves team are new, according to Coach Oliver Twelvetrees. (Photo by Tyler Shown)
Most of the players on the thunderwolves team are new, according to Coach Oliver Twelvetrees. (Photo by Tyler Shown)

The CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves men’s soccer team smashed through many school records in 2021. They won a then-club-record 15 games and hosted the first NCAA tournament game at Art & Lorraine Gonzalez Stadium in Pueblo. They were beaten by the eventual champion California State Los Angeles in the round of 32, knocking the Pack out of the playoffs. This was the furthest a Pack soccer team had ever advanced.

Entering 2022, expectations were high for the Thunderwolves. CSU-Pueblo was projected No. 3 in preseason RMAC rankings and ranked No. 22 in the country entering the season. They returned under the leadership of Head Coach Oliver Twelvetrees, who joined the program in the 2020 season.

“This is a new group of players,” said Head Coach Twelvetrees, “there’s not a huge amount of returning players.”

The club lost their top two goal scorers from 2021, Vincent Zingel and Josua Hall, and their starting goalkeeper Garret Wild. The Thunderwolves fielded a younger, less experienced team.

As the season got underway, the Pack quickly found their groove winning 7 of their first 9 games. Key new players emerged for the Pack in all facets of the game. The Thunderwolves defense quickly became a strength. The Thunderwolves only allowed 11 goals all regular season.

The headlining star was senior defender Shjon Andrews. Andrews had spent four years at CSU-Pueblo, starting in 2019. He only played a total of four minutes entering 2022. Despite this, he won his starting spot on the backline early in the year. Andrews became one of the signature players on the record-setting Thunderwolf squad. Andrews earned the RMAC Defensive Player of the Year award and was named First Team All-Conference.

Leading the offense was junior transfer Gabriel Campora. Campora, the club’s center forward, would lead the Thunderwolves with 16 goals. Campora and Andrews were selected as D2CCA All-Americans.

Brazilian midfielder Caio Olivera and defender Lamar Bynum also earned First Team All-Conference honors. Midfielder Mario Sandoval was selected as a Second Team member. New goalkeeper Nils Roth was an honorable mention.

The Pack entered the playoffs at 14-3-1 and held the No. 3 seed in the Western Region.

“To be able to lose so many of those guys that got us to the promised land, and then get back is a testament to their ability and a testament to everybody’s hard work in the program,” Twelvetrees said.

The Thunderwolves opened up the playoffs with 2-1 win at home against Cal Poly Pomona in front of a packed stadium. Gabriel Campora’s penalty kick goal in the second half would prove to be the decider.

“The fans have been unbelievable, the best fans I’ve seen in all my college career,” Twelvetrees said, after the game.

The Thunderwolves then traveled to San Antonio to face the No. 2 team in the region, St. Mary’s in the Round of 16. The Pack had lost earlier in the year to the Rattlers. This time the Pack won 2-1, with Campora breaking the tie in the 61st minute. Reggie Nicolas assisted the deciding goal.

With the win, the Pack faced the upstart Northwest Nazarene with a chance to win the Western Region. Again Gabriel Campora broke a scoreless tie in the 87th minute. He received a penalty kick chance and scored it to give the Pack the lead. CSU-Pueblo held on to win 1-0 and clinch the program’s first final 4 appearance.

With a spot in the championship game on the line, CSU-Pueblo took on the Barry Buccaneers in Seattle. The Thunderwolves, playing in the biggest match in program history, played in a defensive slugfest. With the game knotted at 0, CSU-Pueblo’s goalkeeper Nils Roth was removed from the game with a head injury. With 20 minutes left in the first half Will Whitworth, a sophomore who had only played six games all season, was called on to hold the Buccaneers in check.

Until the 89th minute the game was tied at zero. Whitworth made two key saves to keep the Thunderwolves in the game.

“Every time the whistle blows it’s an opportunity for that next person to step up and make a difference for this team,” Twelvetrees said.

With less than a minute left, the Pack had a chance to steal the win. Caio Olivera setup from midfield for a free kick. He lofted a pass downfield into the box, Shjon Andrews leaped to meet it.

“Perfect ball from him (Olivera),” Andrews said, describing the final volley. “I jumped up in the air and I knew I was going to head it across. I didn’t know who was going to be there to be honest.”

He passed the ball across to Gabriel Campora, who headed it into the center of the net to give the Pack a lead with 29 seconds left on the clock.

“In these games sometimes you just need one clear one, and if it goes in it’s enough to win the match,” Campora said. Campora scored the deciding goal in all four Pack playoff wins.

“I hit the ground and I hear everyone cheering then I see Gabo (Campora) running to the corner,” Andrews said, “It was a beautiful moment.”

The Thunderwolves held on to win and move on to the program’s first national championship game.

“It’s a special group of players, they deserve this moment,” Twelvetrees said. “They work so hard, and they’re excellent in all facets of being a student athlete. I couldn’t be prouder of them for earning the opportunity to play for the national championship. I came to Pueblo with the opportunity to build champions, which is our Athletic Department slogan. I was excited by the challenge, and I knew we could do it. We’ve built a fantastic program because of our athletic department, our support and our wonderful group of players.”

The Pack were defeated 2-0 in the championship by Franklin Pierce. They finished the season with a 19-4-2 record and by far the deepest playoff run in the history of the program.

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