Mark Ludwig won't share his secret.
The longtime York College men's soccer coach figures something must be working with how he prepares his team for penalty kicks. Well, at least in the last couple years it has, snapping a dry spell that had plagued the Spartans when the game came down to PKs.
"In my first four or five years we struggled in penalties in the NCAA Division III tournament. We got beat quite a bit in that situation," Ludwig said late Sunday afternoon. "I think we have it down. I'm not going to share how we do it. We have a system that tries to replicate pressure."
The comments were made just moments after Ludwig watched his club defeat Rutgers-Camden on penalty kicks, 4-2, after a scoreless regulation and two overtime periods in an NCAA D-III Tournament second-round game at a packed Graham Field in York.
With the win, the Spartans (18-2-2) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. They'll next face Messiah (20-0-1) on Saturday in the round of 16.
"It seems like it's right if the better team wins but that's not always the case (when it comes down to penalty kicks)," Ludwig said. "I felt today we were the better team so I felt it went the right way. But I felt bad for (Rutgers-Camden) because it's a horrible way to lose."
Freshman Eli Bjerk, junior Aaron Beale and seniors Justin Facer and Cody Pearson nailed all four penalty kicks for York. Rutgers-Camden (17-2-2), which entered the game ranked No. 7 in the latest NCAA Division III rankings, hit its first and fourth shots but had the second and third shots go wide of the net. Perhaps the most impressive of the bunch for York was Bjerk, who hadn't played during the game but was called upon to nail York's second penalty kick.
"Eli Bjerk stepped up. He hadn't played in the game and hit a penalty (kick)," Ludwig said. "Three out of the last four games we've had somebody who hasn't been an unsung hero step up and win the game for us."
The Spartans have overcome troubles with penalty kicks as of late. In 2010, they won the Capital Athletic Conference title game over Salisbury on penalty kicks. However, that followed a stretch when York saw its season end on penalty kicks four of the previous five years.
"The past couple years we've had penalty kicks and we feel that monkey has been (lifted) from our backs," Spartans' keeper Jesse Derksen said. "We feel confident. We stepped up two years ago against Salisbury and took it and now we can see the luck turning our way."
Derksen, a Susquehannock High School graduate, made four saves for York, which outshot Rutgers-Camden, 7-4. Derksen was back in goal Sunday after sitting out the Spartans' first-round NCAA tournament win over St. Joseph's to serve a one-game suspension stemming from a red card he received in the final minutes of the Spartans' CAC title win over Mary Washington.
Familiar foe: York will get a chance to avenge a 1-0 double-overtime regular-season loss at Messiah on Sept. 26. Messiah, which is the top ranked team in Division III, defeated Emory, 3-0, on Sunday. The Spartans are aiming to advance to the Elite Eight for the third time in 14 years under Ludwig.
"We're deeper into the season now and the nice thing is we're pulling out wins," Derksen said. "Messiah is obviously a good team. They know what it takes (to win) in the postseason but so do we. We're a dangerous team right now."
-- Reach John Walk at email@example.com.