Nov. 17-19, William and Mary Men’s Club Soccer competed in Round Rock, Texas at the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association National Soccer Championships. The Tribe played in the Men’s Championship with 24 collegiate club soccer teams from across the United States. Finishing the tournament as the consolation bracket champions, the team left Texas with three wins, two draws and one loss, ending their season with a final record of 13-5-2.
From their Greenville, North Carolina regionals tournament to Austin, the team kept overhearing the same frustrated whispered question:, “Who even is William and Mary?” With the smallest student body of any team at nationals, playing with no coach and being one of the few competitive schools to also have a varsity Division I men’s soccer team, the Tribe played with an eager desire to prove their name.
“We had a couple of guys who started counting all the times that people would walk by and say like, ‘who are you guys?’” junior left back Jason Kline said.
Referring to their Cinderella story run, junior goalkeeper Finlay Dodds noted this spirit helped keep them motivated and worked as a detriment to their opponent. Dodds is on the club team for the 2022-23 school year as an exchange student from The University of Edinburgh.
“We embrace that,” Dodds said. “I think we know that other teams will kind of look down on us because we’re not like a huge school. The game’s won before it’s started half the time because people just don’t give us credit.”
The underdogs certainly came out hungry for their club’s first ever chance at a national title. The Tribe took on Michigan State in their first matchup of the group stage. Shaking off the rust and jet-lag, the Tribe went down 2-0 early in the first half to the Spartans. The early setback has often been a common theme for the Tribe throughout the season, as they let up early goals at regionals against Central Florida and Florida, but came back to win both games. Senior captain and center striker Bjorn Shockey described the motivation behind the team’s comeback mentality.
“It is a camaraderie thing,” Shockey said. “We’re a social club because we spend a lot of time together outside of just soccer. So it’s really nice that no one’s like yelling at each other and there’s no toxicity. Everyone is just like, ‘all right we’re down, we’re not going to argue, we’re just going to come back’ and it’s going to be that much sweeter when we actually get the result.”
With a first goal header from Kline off a corner from sophomore midfielder Sam Grove and a second goal from sophomore midfielder Daniel Carter, the Tribe ended up tying the Spartans 2-2 at the end of the 80 minutes. Junior forward president Sam Passodelis spoke on the shift in emotion throughout the game.
“Part of me, I think, was like not fully ready to play. I had a stomach ache at the beginning of that game because I was nervous… Then after the first 20 minutes I started playing significantly better because I was just like, ‘We’re here. We’re here just like every other team. We deserve to be here.’ I think we honestly dominated Michigan State for the next 60 minutes,” Passodelis said.
After Michigan State, the Tribe took on their next and final opponent of the group stage, Minnesota. Without a men’s varsity team and with a coaching staff that includes Alan Merrick — a former West Bromwich Albion, U-18 England national team and US professional player — the Minnesota Gophers gave the Tribe a difficult game. Against Minnesota, the Tribe put up a tough fight in the first half letting up only one goal, but a demoralizing second half had the Tribe closing out the group stage with a 4-0 loss against the Gophers. The Gophers placed second in the entire tournament, falling to Brigham Young 2-1 in the championship game. With the loss, the Tribe fell to the consolation bracket by goal differential.
As they progressed through the consolation bracket, the Tribe faced off against Colorado, James Madison and Southern California. In their first matchup against Colorado, the Tribe went down early by one goal in the first half. However, a first goal from Passodelis, followed by another from sophomore Tim Llewellyn, propelled the Tribe to a 2-1 win against the Buffaloes. Junior captain center back Nate Hillman noted the resilience of his team.
“The mental resolve of the team is something that I’ve never been a part of before. No matter what the score is or how much time is left, nobody’s quitting,” Hillman said.
With this win under their belts, the Tribe next faced off against JMU for the third time of the season. At 8:00a.m. in 35 degree freezing rain weather, the Tribe secured their undefeated season record against JMU. In a gritty, hardfought match, freshman Jarrett Haft scored to get the Tribe a 1-0 win. Naturally, the two Virginia schools have a bit of a rivalry. Not only do the Tribe own three out of JMU’s four season losses, but the two teams also play with a very different style.
“JMU is a particularly physical team. There are a lot of these bigger guys and we’re kind of a smaller, quicker and maybe more technical team. And so when we play them, it gets, like, really chippy and physical,” Shockey said.
When the Tribe prepared to face Southern California in the consolation finals, the weather had different plans as the game got rained out and both teams were declared consolation champions.
“It was just great to end on a win,” Hillman said. “I think we’ve all probably played a lot of soccer over the course of our lives, but this has probably been one of the most incredible teams, most incredible seasons I’ve ever been a part of.”
Over the course of the regular season, the Tribe played other Virginia schools in their division including Virginia, Virginia Tech, JMU, Virginia Commonwealth, Radford, Lynchburg, Old Dominion and Christopher Newport. The Tribe clinched their spot in the regionals tournament with an at-large bid. The Tribe played in Region II along with other teams from the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
The Tribe started off the regionals tournament tying Virginia Tech 0-0 with a clutch save by Dodds on a penalty kick in the last minutes of the game and then lost to Auburn 3-1. The team had to beat UFC in their final round of the group stage and Auburn had to lose to Virginia Tech in order for the Tribe to advance. The two games happened on neighboring fields simultaneously.
“We conceded a goal within like the first five minutes of the game,” Passodelis said. “We were like, ‘all right this season’s over’ or whatever. But then, I think something that powered us was, ‘I don’t know about you guys, but I heard Virginia Tech score on the other field,’ and I was like ‘okay, like let’s go.’”
“Also, like, UCF was talking a lot of smack,” Hillman added.
Freshman Raphael Espinoza scored the first goal against UCF right before the halftime whistle blew.
“That was a big goal that I can remember, it was almost like, ‘alright that was the greatest goal in our club’s history, and then like the next one,’” Passodelis said, smiling. “Second half we were really, really fighting hard and Ted Zhang scored like a screamer. It was outside the box in the top corner and everyone went crazy.”
With the goal from junior Zhang, the Tribe ousted UCF 2-1, while Virginia Tech bested Auburn and sent the Tribe through to the elimination round. After beating JMU 1-0 and Florida 2-1, the Tribe fell 5-1 in the finals to Region II titan North Carolina Chapel Hill. With the loss to the Tar Heels, the Tribe pulled out second place at the regional tournament in North Carolina, ultimately sending them to Texas.
Throughout their twenty games this fall, the Tribe walked away with a special team bond that made Hillman describe his teammates as “brothers.” Their team trip to the biggest indoor water park in Texas and their dinner at Burros Tex Mex Bar and Grille were some of Passodelis’s favorite memories from nationals. When Dodds spoke on the difference between football back in Edinburgh and soccer in the States, Kline shared one of the funnier moments of the season that happened in their first game against CNU.
“Okay you can curse when you’re playing here, but you can’t curse directed at people and you really shouldn’t scream it, and I guess in Scotland that’s not how it works ordinarily,” Kline said, laughing. “So our first game there’s like a minor missed call or like, it was not that big of a deal, and Finlay’s in the goal just screaming bloody murder at the ref.”
Dodds laughed and added his appreciation for the team.
“Especially for me coming over here this year and going to tryouts, the boys have been so good just welcoming me and making me really feel like part of the squad,” Dodds said. “And we do have like a really good core group of guys that will pretty much like do anything for each other, and I think that’s why we’ve seen such good success.”
Junior Ryan Schwartz shared his experience with the club throughout his years at the College.
“So Sam, Nate and I joined club soccer, this was the first club I think all of us joined, when we got here as freshman during COVID. So we were all separated wearing masks. I think if you had said that starting from there to going to Texas to play soccer, it’s just such a large jump from where we were two years ago, that if you ask any of us I don’t think we would have ever expected it,” Schwartz said.
Shockey, a senior who worked through a month-long hip injury last spring, was especially thankful for the club and the team this year.
“I have this real appreciation for the organization and I really do think that looking forward to future years and future seasons that the younger kids have a really good shot at continuing competing for nationals and competing at nationals. Hopefully next year you’ll be writing about them winning the competition or competing at least to win,” Shockey said.
To donate to the William and Mary Men’s Club Soccer fundraiser for their trip to the NIRSA National Soccer Championships use this GoFundMe link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-wm-club-soccer-pay-for-our-trip-to-nationals?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1