Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Fran O’Leary praises senior class in UMass senior day victory

Five veterans conclude their careers with a win
Daily Collegian/ Sophie-Zoe Schreyer

Senior day couldn’t have been scripted any more dramatically for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team in its home win against Dayton on Saturday.

Five seniors were honored before the Minutemen (7-3-7, 2-1-5 Atlantic 10) overcame the odds and scored a last-minute winner to beat the Flyers (9-3-4, 3-2-3 A-10), who had only lost one game thus far and got votes in the national top-25 poll this week.

UMass needed to win this game if it wanted a chance to make the conference tournament. Now it awaits its fate as other results determine whether it earned a spot among the A-10’s top eight.

“You’ve got Evan Fournier, by far his best season ever, Ryan Levay and Nate [Cardoza] are captains for a reason,” said head coach Fran O’Leary. “They and Evan have seen a lot, have done a lot. They’ve been fantastic, “Tommy [Case] transferred in, Shizu [Yohena] transferred in and they fit in great with the guys, they have been terrific additions to the squad.”

Fournier, Cardoza, Levay, Yohena and Case all started the game on Saturday and played massive roles not only in the win over Dayton, but throughout their entire careers under head coach Fran O’Leary.

O’Leary continued, “And then the three other boys have been with us for four years. In Nate’s case he came back to do a graduate degree, so he’s been with us for five years. All five of them have been fantastic additions to UMass soccer.”

Minutemen forward Nick Zielonka scored the first goal and had the game-winning assist to Alec Hughes but praised his senior class following the game.

“[The seniors] have just been massive, a perfect example of what a UMass player should be,” Zielonka said. “They’ve guided us and just led us all the way to the end, they never let that fight die in us. They showed that throughout the whole season.”

Cardoza, a team captain and leader of the backline, had a quality performance of defending, effort and desire on Saturday.

“He was unbelievable,” O’Leary said of Cardoza. “This guy, he played 90 minutes last Saturday, 90 minutes Monday. I said to our bench, there’s a lot of young guys on the bench, but about 20 minutes ago, [Cardoza] made a recovery run when he was clearly exhausted. I just talked to the bench, and I said, ‘If you want to be a real Division-I player, just look at Nate Cardoza.’ He’s that good. He’s that good… he’ll be a huge, huge loss for us.”

A native of South Easton, Mass., Cardoza’s played 59 games for UMass, starting 49 of them for over 4,100 total minutes for the Minutemen. He scored three goals and picked up three assists in the process. But perhaps more importantly, Cardoza guided an all-new defense in 2022, preparing the young group for a promising season together next year.

“I mean, this experience was second to none, I loved it,” Cardoza said. “The team chemistry, the guys, it’s awesome. The coaching is awesome… They do a lot to really make our experience enjoyable and, man, I just love being here. I love playing with the guys and the reason why I was here five years is because I love every second of it, it’s a good atmosphere.”

Ryan Levay is who some would define as the unsung hero of this UMass team in the past four years. Also a captain this year, Levay is the definition of a Fran O’Leary Minuteman. He’s a leader, a physical presence and a duel-winning machine who always gives 110 percent on the pitch.

No one in this roster played more games than Levay, with 60 to his name. In 3,747 minutes, the wide midfielder scored five goals and gave away three assists for a total of 13 points.

Evan Fournier came to UMass a local legend after an illustrious career at Belchertown, and only took off from there. The 6-foot-4 midfielder enjoyed a breakout year this season as a leader and a star. Fournier picked up three goals and five assists in 2022 and totaled four goals and seven assists in his career.

Daily Collegian/ Sophie-Zoe Schreyer

“Amazing,” Fournier said of his time at UMass. “I loved every minute of it and there’s not a better way to finish these years, or at least the last day, last senior day, so I couldn’t have imagined a better game and a better ending for that. So it’s amazing, amazing feeling right now.”

“I just try to lead by example, be mature in the locker room and for the young guys, levelheaded, moving in the right direction.”

Two transfers who made their mark at UMass were honored on Saturday, Yohena and Case. Yohena is listed as a sophomore in the roster, but as a senior academically, concluded a rather short career with the Minutemen.

The attacking midfielder from Okinawa, Japan, earned a big role this year as one of the more dynamic players in the team. He often brought a spark off the bench, and finished the season with two goals, three assists and one of the best strikes of the season.

Tommy Case, a redshirt senior from Eugene, Oregon, played 45 games for the Minutemen despite only being at UMass for three seasons. He quickly earned O’Leary’s trust and culminated his career with an impressive performance against Dayton in the midfield.

There is one more senior in the squad, but he wasn’t honored before the game. It’s goalkeeper Matt Zambetti, one of the biggest additions to the team as a transfer from Virginia Tech. O’Leary confirmed after the game that Zambetti will return for a grad year – important news for the Minutemen’s defense as it heads into a new year.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.

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