Injured, depleted and with low morale, Hamza Mourchid looked upon his team a year ago, wishing he could play and worrying that he only had one more year left to perform.
Flash-forward a year. Mourchid, now a senior standout for the Gannon University men’s soccer team, has become opposing defenses’ living nightmare, sitting second in the NCAA Division II goals statistical ranking with 20 heading into Tuesday’s 4-1 road loss to rival Mercyhurst.
The loss left the Knights with an overall record of 10-5-1 and a PSAC mark of 6-3-1 going into Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. regular-season finale with East Stroudsburg at McConnell Family Stadium.
Mourchid has filled the net with goals this season, and his outstanding play in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Pitt-Johnstown helped his squad clinch a playoff spot for the first time in four years.
“Last year I was injured,” Mourchid recalled of the 2015 season. “It was very difficult because I knew that I would have just one more year to play.”
Mourchid said Gannon coach Dale White gave him confidence and motivation “to push myself game after game. Without that it would be more difficult.”
In the win over Pitt-Johnstown Saturday Mourchid scored not one, not two but three goals – his second hat trick of the season.
Early in the game, it was a defensive battle, with both teams playing stellar. However, in the 37th minute, Mourchid struck gold and nailed one past the UPJ goalie’s reach after a beauty of an assist from Joshua Ott. Gannon went up 1-0.
The Gannon defense continually made stop after stop, with goalie Jorge Hernandez having another outstanding performance.
Once again, in the 76th minute, Mourchid found another goal off a cross ball assist from Sergio Kobowane.
Mourchid, who had a season-high 10 shots, six of which were on goal, said the Knights have shown great teamwork this season.
“The best part of being on the team is to be together,” Mourchid said of the Knights.
“We enjoy playing together and we can see it on the field. The wins help to have a good environment but we could see that even when we lost we were still looking forward.”
Mourchid was not done yet. Just 11 minutes after his second goal, he was taken down inside the box and attempted a penalty kick. He successfully connected for his third goal of the match, putting Gannon up 3-0, the final of the contest.
Mourchid is 7-for-8 on penalty kicks this season.
Last week did not start as strong as it ended. The 24th-ranked Knights lost in heartbreaking fashion, 1-0, in double-overtime on Oct. 19 against No. 15 Urbana.
The defenses dominated throughout the entire matchup, and for 90 minutes, Gannon held the visitors without a single shot.
In the game’s 68th minute, Mourchid bent the ball to Nick Stephenson, who redirected the ball into the net. However, the referees ruled that Stephenson was offsides and the goal was negated. The score remained 0-0.
In the last seconds of the game, in double overtime, Urbana’s Lars Blenckers booted a ball from 30 years out and bent it over the goalie’s head to give the Blue Knights a last- second victory.
In the loss to Mercyhurst, the team didn’t do much offensively except for Mourchid’s 21st goal in the 31st minute off a pass from sophomore Tyler Martin.
The Knights led the game 1-0 at halftime. However, the Lakers took over the rest of the game and scored four to capture the win.
Mourchid and the team are looking forward and working at continuing their strong season. As a leader, he emphasized the importance of a strong work ethic, which he called the most important thing.
“If you don’t work, nothing can happen and no one will listen to you,” he said. “In my opinion, leaders inspire others to be leaders.”