Seniors set to make lasting impression for UMass men’s soccer

By Jason Kates

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

On Saturday afternoon, a group of five seniors could potentially be playing their last game for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team.

In the upcoming regular season finale against Fordham, the Minutemen (4-12-1, 3-3-1 Atlantic 10) will honor these players, but will also look to secure a spot in this year’s A-10 conference tournament.

Senior Mark Morris, who leads the team with three goals and tied for the most points (seven), said the team controls its own destiny heading into the last match, and definitely know a lot of emotions will be present.

“Knowing that going out on Rudd for the last time, it’s mixed emotions,” he said. “I’m definitely going to be a little bit sad when the game ends but hopefully when it’s all over we’ll be excited that we’re on our way to DC for the tournament.”

UMass is currently in seventh place with 10 points, holding a one-point advantage over both Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason.

For the Rams, they’ll be going up against Dayton, while the Patriots have a date with Rhode Island.

Despite the chance that UMass can still get into the postseason without getting a win, captain Will Ellis doesn’t want it to come to that.

“Definitely excited for the last game of the season, it pretty much is do-or-die, we need a win to fully secure our way,” Ellis said Tuesday night after practice. “If results go our way we still can make it into the playoffs, but it’d be nice to finish my career at George Mason instead of here against Fordham.”

Both players discussed the coaching changes they have gone through after longtime head coach Sam Koch passed away in the summer of 2014.

Last year, Devin O’Neill took the reigns as interim coach, but the team stumbled its way through the season, going 3-14-1 overall.

But this year, Fran O’Leary was hired, and both Ellis and Morris talked about the adjustments he has brought to the team.

“It’s been a unique situation,” Morris said. “Sam was the one that recruited me, so losing him was tough obviously, and then Devin and I had a good relationship, so losing him as well was tough.”

“O’Leary’s done a great job of getting us focused again and getting us back to the tournament this year and just setting UMass up great for the years to come and putting us back into contention every year,” Morris added.

In Ellis’ eyes, each coach brought something different to the table.

“Fran is definitely bringing the program to new levels, higher standards and getting the program back to what it was when Sam was the head coach,” Ellis said. “It’s only on the way up from here.”

Through four years, there have been plenty of low moments for the graduating seniors, but the bonds have only gotten stronger through the adversity they faced.

“The passing of Sam and getting through the last year just because of the situation of losing him, all of us became really close and we all stuck it out,” Morris said.

“Playing here with those guys the last four years, every day together, we built friendships that I’d say will last forever,” Ellis added.

With the potential that they’ll be playing their last game as Minutemen, two of the players that have been through it all shared their favorite memories as a part of the program.

In 2013 with a spot in the conference tournament on the line, UMass traveled to Saint Bonaventure with only 12 players after disciplinary action was taken. Although the team was shorthanded, it was Morris who delivered, scoring the game winner in a 2-1 victory and clinching a postseason berth.

“We ended up traveling there and I got the game winning goal that secured us into the A-10 tournament that year,” he said. “That was probably my best moment here on campus, just getting the win and seeing coach Koch tear up because of how happy and proud he was.”

It wasn’t a victory for Ellis that was his favorite moment at UMass, but rather a 0-0 tie against Saint Louis earlier in the season on the same day Koch was being memorialized with tons of alumni in attendance.

“We usually get worked by them pretty good, so getting the tie we put a lot of hard work into, it was good to get a result that he (Koch) would definitely be proud of,” Ellis said.

Besides these two, Jake Alvaro, Lenoir Sery and Danny Belza will also be honored for their service to the program.

Kickoff is set for noon Saturday at Rudd Field, with ceremonies honoring the senior set to take place before.

 

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed @Jason_Kates.