On Thursday, Dec. 1, the UMW men’s soccer team will be playing in the NCAA Division III semifinals against Williams College in Salem, Va. This will be the team’s first appearance in the NCAA semifinals since 1997, when they finished No. 3 in the nation.
“Overall, I would say we are feeling confident,” said goalkeeper Griffin Hemmendinger, a senior business administration major. “We match up nicely with any team in the country and can beat anybody on any given day.”
The team solidified their spot in the semifinals after a victory over Bowdoin College in Amherst, Mass., last Sunday, with a final score of 3-2. Senior defender Jacob Kautzman put the Eagles on the scoreboard first with a goal in the 26th minute off of a corner kick from senior Abel Lewis, though Bowdoin countered ten minutes later, ending the first half tied 1-1.
Sophomore forward Carter Berg came out strong in the second half, scoring two rapid-fire goals only 10 seconds apart in the first five minutes. He scored his first point off of a penalty kick, then, moments later, was crashing the net. As Bowdoin’s goalie deflected senior Josh Kirkland’s long shot, the ball came right to Berg, who finished the job. Bowdoin added another point to their score with a penalty at 55:30, but they did not score again thanks to Hemmendinger’s nine saves.
The team feels ready for Thursday’s game, and many players noted that they are not doing anything different to prepare for this match.
“Overall, the preparation does not change,” said Hemmendinger. “We look at this like it is any other game and we know we must get the job done.”
Despite not doing anything differently to prepare, Aiden Shell, a junior biology major on the team, called this game a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“I know the team is ready to go and seize the moment,” said Shell. “We all knew we had the talent and determination to make it to the final four this season after working for it since last spring. It’s nice to see the hard work pay off, but we are not done yet.”
Some team members are experiencing this accomplishment during the first year of their collegiate career, while others have been working towards this chance for years.
“I would have loved to have a season like this in the past, but a run into the NCAA tournament like this does not come often, so I am very grateful,” said Hemmendinger.
Freshman James Rollinson, a business administration major, said this has been a special first season.
“As a freshman, there is really no better way to spend my first season with the team and I am so happy for the upperclassmen who get to experience this success in their careers,” said Rollinson. “Making the Final Four was one of our team goals that we made at the beginning of the season, and it feels great to see all of our hard work pay off.”
Some alumni have reached out to the team, offering support and sharing that they will be attending the game.
“UMW hasn’t made it this far in the NCAA tournament in 25 years and the support from the alumni and other students has been at an all-time high,” said Rollinson.
The last time UMW men’s soccer made it this far in the NCAA Division III tournament was in 1997 when the team’s record was 21-3-1. The Eagles’ current record for this season is 13-4-4. The ‘97 team reached unprecedented levels of success in UMW history, winning the Capital Athletic Conference Championship for the seventh time in a row and setting a school record with a 14-game winning streak.
But even though the team has secured its spot in the final four, the team has faced criticism leading up to the semifinals.
“Going into this week’s games we have a chip on our shoulder,” said Rollison. “People are writing us off, saying that we are having a ‘Cinderella Run’ and are lucky to have made it this far as an underdog. We don’t listen to the critics and know that we belong here. Our performances so far show that we can beat some of the best programs in the country and we are ready to do it again in the Final Four.”
The Eagles will kick off at 4 p.m. on Thursday in a battle to reach the championship match. The game will be livestreamed on the NCAA website.