Josh Schwartz always knew he wanted to play sports in college. He played soccer and hockey growing up and was passionate about both, but as he got older his coaches gave him the inevitable truth: he had to choose one or the other.
It wasn’t until the end of his high school tenure that Schwartz chose the beautiful game.
And in his second season with the Massachusetts men’s soccer team, it appears he made the right decision.
Schwartz finished his freshman campaign as the team’s second-leading scorer with four points and a pair of goals, trailing only rising junior Brett Canepa, who had seven points off three goals and an assist.
Although both goals came in losing efforts, Schwartz’s second tally of the season was key in the Minutemen’s hard-fought overtime loss to then-No. 14 Charlotte, which reached the NCAA College Cup. The 49ers lost, 1-0, to North Carolina in that game.
Schwartz’s first career goal came just two games prior, Sept. 24, at Dartmouth in a 2-1 letdown.
For most athletes, being the team’s second-leading scorer as a freshman is considered quite an accomplishment. But for Schwartz, that was not his biggest achievement.
“I came into [last season] looking to work hard and try to make an impact,” Schwartz said. “I guess I played a little more than I expected being a freshman, but my whole goal was to work hard and I think I accomplished that.”
The work ethic Schwartz brought to UMass last season will be especially vital this year as he is called upon to be a leader on a team with 15 freshmen. Setting a good example for the younger players on the team is something he hopes to accomplish this season.
“It all goes back to working hard and setting an example for the younger guys,” Schwartz said. “It’s about getting to know the younger guys on a more personal level so we work well on the field as well as off the field.”
Although Schwartz said he hopes to have a big year personally, his biggest concerns are that of the Minutemen, who look to improve upon a frustrating 4-13-2 mark that ended their season without an Atlantic 10 playoff berth.
“I don’t think we had a lot of chemistry last year,” Schwartz said. “As a team our goal is to have more chemistry and with more chemistry the goals will fall this year.”
Scoring more goals certainly couldn’t hurt UMass’ cause after finishing 2011 with a conference-worst nine goals.
“I think there was an overall pressure on everyone to score,” Schwartz said. “We had a really difficult time [last year].
“Our main goal was to win as many games as possible and get to the A-10 playoffs, which is again our goal this year to get to Charlotte,” he said.
Being a reliable scorer is nothing new for the Annapolis, Md., native, who holds the single-season record for goals at Broadneck High School with 29 goals and 12 assists.
He was selected for the First Team All-County honors for the second consecutive season, First Team All-State, NACAA All-South and Team MVP as well as Academic All-American recognition.
Scoring may have come easy for Schwartz in high school, but making the jump to Division I college soccer was a big adjustment for him.
“It’s just a much faster game,” Schwartz said. “When I first got [to UMass] I was surprised at how much faster it was. It didn’t think it would be as fast.
“There’s a lot less time with the ball and a lot less time to dribble,” he said. “In high school I used to dribble all the time and there’s not as much time in the college game.”
Schwartz also made note of how the game is much more physical than he’s ever seen.
Making these adjustments often frustrated Schwartz. As a player who has incredibly high expectations for himself, Schwartz let those frustrations get the best of him whenever he felt he didn’t meet those expectations.
“To be honest he’s probably his worst enemy,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “When he doesn’t play well he, sort of, internally self-destructs.”
Schwartz agreed with Koch.
“I’ve been like that my whole life,” Schwartz said. “I’m really hard on myself when I don’t do well.”
It’s something the two have discussed at length multiple times and has motivated Schwartz to take the necessary steps towards improving, starting with being more positive.
“I’m focusing more on the positive things,” Schwartz said. “I’m not worrying as much if I have a bad pass, just kind of brush it aside and say, ‘I’ll make a better pass next time.’”
Schwartz feels he is breaking that habit of putting his head down after making mistakes and focusing on doing better with the next chance he gets. He feels an extra year of maturity has helped him make that transition.
“I think it’s hard being a freshman and coming into a Division I program, it’s hard to adapt,” Schwartz said. “Being a sophomore this year, it’ll definitely be easier for me.”
And his efforts surely haven’t gone unnoticed by his coaches.
“He’s now a year older, a year smarter and psychologically better prepared,” Koch said. “I think you’re going to find that he’s going to have a really good year.”
And the Minutemen need a strong year from Schwartz after such scoring difficulties last year, meaning his impact will surely be recognized if he has a big year and the team can continue to improve.
“He’s definitely an important piece to the team this year,” Koch said. “Is he the most important? Everybody’s important … Is he an important part of the team? No question. Is he a spark plug for us? Absolutely – no question.”
Schwartz, who hopes to move on to medical school to pursue a career as a doctor, is focused on curing the Minutemen’s scoring woes.
And maybe a championship will come with that.
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Canelas.