On Wednesday, in front of a raucous home crowd chanting their names, the previously undefeated Macalester Men’s Soccer team fell in the MIAC playoff semifinals to St. Thomas. The Tommies netted their first goal early the second half, as a well-timed deflection off a corner kick squeaked by star keeper Zeke Vanier ’17. With just six minutes left on the clock, the Tommies stretched their lead to 2-0 on a penalty kick.
This was familiar and not uncomfortable territory for the Scots, who have shown a consistent ability throughout the season to come from behind and overcome adversity. The most notable example of this was against these same Tommies, when the Scots overcame a 2-0 deficit by scoring three times in the last 10 minutes of the game to pull off a miracle win.
This time, though, it was not to be. Jamel Benhamida ’19 gave the Scots a jolt of life with four minutes to play as he buried a bouncing ball in the back of the net. Macalester’s last-ditch efforts to tie the game were unsuccessful, and the white-clad Tommies celebrated an upset victory. Every soul in the crowd stayed in their spots to sing “Macalester is Wonderful” to the home team.
The loss in no way defines the Scots’ season. Through the entire regular season, 18 games, 37 goals, 13 wins and no losses, the team showed everybody in the MIAC and the country exactly what they were made of. As one of the NCAA’s only teams to go undefeated through the regular season, the Scots were given a well-earned spot as the 11th ranked team in the nation this week. This is a season that will be long remembered.
It is also a season that is not yet over. Despite their loss in the MIAC playoffs, the Scots still boast an incredibly impressive resume and a spot in the top 25 rankings, both of which make an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament a very strong possibility. If the Scots do receive an at-large bid, it will be the first time since 2010 that Macalester Soccer has made an NCAA playoff appearance.
This historic season has been long in the making, and can be attributed to the commitment, experience and depth that define this team.
In his fourth year at Macalester, Head Coach Gregg Olson stresses the importance of progress for the team. The team has consistently focused on getting better step-by-step and being present in the moment, whether it be in a training session or a game. Unquestionably, this mentality has been reflected in the results on the field. In Coach Olson’s time at Macalester the team has improved greatly, going from a .500 team in 2013 to winning the regular season conference title this year. In addition, this is the first time Men’s Soccer has gone undefeated in the MIAC in the since 2002.
After losing to St. John’s in the quarterfinals of the MIAC playoffs last year, the Scots brought a higher level of commitment, which has made a huge difference. “The guys now realize what it takes to get further and further, and they put in the work to see the results,” Olson said. “They committed to the culture of the program, meaning they are dedicated to their development and committed to thriving in every aspect of their lives.”
Off-season dedication was also key to getting the team to where they are today. Unlike in previous years, the team had a busy schedule of lifts, runs and drills during the spring semester. “Everyone showed up and if you weren’t there, people noticed,” said defender Jac Carlson ’16. “This competitive atmosphere within the team has pushed everyone to be their best.”
Experience has also played a key role in the Scots’ success. “We have guys who were recruited at a pretty darn good level of talent and are now experienced because they played as freshmen and sophomores,” said Olson. “That’s what sets this team apart: maturity of talent.”
With players working harder and encouraging each other to be their best, one of the most notable changes in the program is the depth of the roster. In past years, injuries in the starting lineup would have really hurt the team, but this year the squad was built to handle such issues.
“Injury was prevalent, but it just proved how deep our team can be, because people stepped up and did really well. You could not really even notice people were gone,” Carlson said.
Despite their successes, starting the season with three ties in a row left the team a little unsure of what lay ahead. “When we were not performing as well, we had meetings with Coach and talked through what we were doing wrong and how to get back on track. I think those time-outs really helped us through,” said midfielder Alan Schembri Wismayer ’17.
Members of the team agree that it is hard to define a single moment when the team’s fortunes turned. Rather, over time the Scots gained both momentum and confidence in their potential.
“There have been a number of moments this year and I think that is what gives the guys so much belief in what they are doing,” said Olson.
Belief, for the time being, will have to be enough for the Scots. For at least a few more days, all they can do is hope and believe that they will be rewarded for their hard work, gutsy performances and dominance with an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. One thing though, as 18 teams can tell you, is true regardless of who believes it and who doesn’t: the Scots are as dangerous as any program in the country. If the NCAA is wise enough to grant them entry to the national tournament, they will surely have their loyal fans singing into the night with pride.