After receiving a bid for the Division III NCAA Tournament early last week, Swarthmore men’s soccer fell to the Stevens Ducks in the first round of the tournament this past Saturday. The match took place at Tufts University, located in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. The teams were evenly matched entering the game, with nearly identical records over the course of the season. During the contest, both sides had good opportunities to score, but the score was locked at 0-0 throughout regulation. However, it was the Ducks that finally scored in the 88th minute of the match. After that goal, Swarthmore threw everything it could at Stevens in an effort to get the equalizer in the final few minutes of play, but the Garnet were unable to find the back of the net. The game took almost four hours to complete as it was interrupted midway through the second half by a lengthy weather delay.
While the close 1-0 loss to the Ducks was a disappointment to the Garnet, the team has much to be proud of after their 2021 season.
This past August, Swarthmore men’s soccer returned to the pitch almost two years after the end of their 2019 fall season, but the time away from formal college play did not leave the team rusty coming into the 2021 season. If anything, it motivated the team to return to the sport they loved and sharpened their desire to excel. Forward Freddie Lin ’24, whose first college season was cancelled last fall, said that the 2021 season was especially exciting.
“Without a doubt I was most excited to be a part of a group that was all working towards the same collective goal of winning games and having fun,” Lin said. “The feeling of finally being a part of a team after a year of not really knowing what was going to happen made me realize how important it is for me to have all my teammates to turn to and learn from.”
Midfielder Stathis Kalathias ’24, one of only three players on the team to start every game of the 2021 season, was in the same boat as Lin, having never had a proper college season prior to this fall. Kalathias recounted his feelings going into pre-season back in August.
“Having not had the chance to play last year, it made me more grateful for the opportunity we had now and I wanted to make the most of it,” he said.
Defender Jason Meuth ’22, a seasoned player on the squad, said that even for him, “it felt like freshman year all over again, in terms of the nerves and levels of excitement.”
For another senior on the team, Conor Gill ’22, this final season also meant a lot personally. “This season meant the last proper piece of competitive soccer for me. So this season was about leaving it all out there [and] leaving a legacy within the program,” said the forward.
As one would expect from a team receiving an NCAA tournament bid, Swarthmore played strong during the regular season, posting an impressive record of 11-5-2. They emerged victorious in many tough overtimes, including in back-to-back weekends against conference opponents Dickinson and Haverford. The team was especially successful in home matches, ending the regular season with a perfect 8-0-0 record at Clothier Field. Their conference record of 6-2-1 earned them the 4th seed in the Centennial Conference Tournament. However, they unfortunately lost in the first round against 5th-seeded Gettysburg.
“We were devastated after the Gettysburg loss,” Kalathias said. “But [we] still had some hope of potentially being picked up for the NCAAs.”
While winning the Centennial Conference Champions would have resulted in an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, based on overall performance this season, the Garnet still received an at-large bid from the NCAA selection committee. As a result, the team made its ninth NCAA appearance in program history. Men’s soccer was the only fall team sport to go to NCAA’s with the field hockey, women’s soccer, and volleyball teams all ending their seasons during their respective Centennial Conference Tournaments.
The day of selection was an especially fond memory for men’s soccer.
Meuth described the moment as “absolute chaos” in the best way. “Our name was the third team called and it took a second for it to register with everyone, but once it did, it was absolute bedlam,” Meuth said. “All of us were jumping on each other yelling, and then our teammates came out of their classrooms to join in on the celebrations.”
Kalathias added to Meuth’s sentiment, “Training later that day was buzzing with energy. No one wanted the season to be over and we all love spending time together, so it was great to have the chance to continue.”
Although their season ended in a disappointing fashion, the team still appreciated the overall experience. “I’m grateful to have been able to share those experiences (highs and lows) with this group. I felt supported and cared for — the older lads helped create a great environment in the dressing room and we all were genuinely friends and enjoyed being together,” said Kalathias.