There are a lot of things to like about Sam Zipperstein's soccer game and the Gunn High grad has gained the respect of his Menlo College teammates through his unmatched work ethic, his dedication and his commitment to the team.
Oaks' coach Mike Keller just wishes he'd be a little more vocal.
"He's a quiet leader," Keller said. "The intensity he brings to practice every day is excellent. He's a good student and he does all the little things."
Perhaps most telling is that Zipperstein has scored once all season, a game-winning goal, and he leads Menlo with 11 assists.
"The team respects his level of play," Keller said. "They respect him for what he does."
Zipperstein is one of several local athletes on Menlo's men's soccer team who will participate in the school's first-ever appearance at the NAIA tournament this weekend.
The Oaks (13-3-1) travel to Georgia to meet sixth-ranked Southern Poly (15-2-2) in Saturday's first-round match. The contest will be streamed live over the web beginning at 10 a.m. (PST) The direct link is www.ustream.tv Announcer Dylan Vazzano, who works in the Menlo Sports Information office, plans to take a red-eye out of the Bay Area on Friday night.
The Oaks traveled Thursday, have a practice scheduled Friday and an NAIA sponsored banquet in the evening.
Southern Poly, located in Marietta, has a 4-2-2 record against teams in the NAIA field. Menlo is 0-0-1, playing No. 19 Biola to a draw on Sept. 17. The Oaks have won 11 straight since that contest.
Joining Zipperstein are Sacred Heart Prep grad Alex Vukic, the Oaks' second-leading scorer with nine goals, and Menlo-Atherton grad Enrique Ortiz. Vukic also serves as a co-captain with Zipperstein.
"Alex always tries to be positive and gives maximum effort," Keller said. "He's likable because he's well-meaning and treats people with respect."
Keller, in his second year with Menlo, set the foundation with last year's group, which included Zipperstein and Vukic.
Keller said Zipperstein "recruited himself" to Menlo after spending time at Foothill College. The former All-SCVAL baseball player turned out to be one of the most productive players.
"It all started last year with a group of guys who came in and created a great atmosphere," Keller said. "That core of guys really fostered a winning attitude themselves. Our goal was to win a conference championship and go to the national tournament, though I don't think we could honestly say it would happen so quickly."
Menlo's confidence soared after beating defending champion Holy Names, 1-0, at home on Oct. 15. The miracle that is junior goalkeeper Alex Palomarez showed up that day as he made two incredible saves that clinched the win and sparked the playoff run.
The Oaks allowed 13 goals in their first 10 games. They have allowed one since.
"You could really see that confidence soar and it showed the rest of the way," Keller said. "Alex worked very hard and had a great year. All of the goalkeepers worked hard. Alex was at his best when his best was needed."
Palomarez was recognized as Cal Pac Conference Player of the Year for his efforts while Keller was named Coach of the Year and Eric Angell was honored as Newcomer of the Year.
Angell, Matheus Barbosa, Palomarez, Eric Tilbury, Vukic and Zipperstein were named all-Cal Pac.
Barbosa led the Oaks with 10 goals, including four game-winning goals, and an assist for 21 points. Palomarez finished with an .845 save percentage and 0.834 goals against average. Ricardo Urruela was third on the team in scoring with six goals and two assists for 14 points.
The Hornets are lead by Senior Jumol Harewood who has 14 goals and 3 assists, senior Sean Grisham who has 8 goals and 6 assists and junior Emeka Maduka who has 12 goals and 4 assists.
"It's a great program and I know they've won a national title once," Keller said. "It is a formidable challenge."
Menlo is one of seven teams making its first appearance in the national tournament.
"It's one thing to say you want to win a title and play in the postseason," Keller said. "Now we have proof that we can do it. That helps open the door for recruits who are looking to play for winning programs and want an opportunity to play on a national stage. It definitely raises the bar another level. This becomes the new standard. We've won the conference title and now we want to win it again next year."