Men’s club soccer captures first ever national title

Leadership, trust and resilience earn Cavaliers the ultimate prize

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The Virginia men's club soccer team won its first ever national title. 

Courtesy Tysen Tresness

In the dying minutes of a deadlocked round of 16 matchup against Michigan, the Virginia men’s club soccer team found hope. With fewer than six minutes remaining on the clock, sophomore midfielder Tysen Tresness broke the tie, and propelled the Cavaliers on to the next round of play.

However, not all was won. Senior goalkeeper Blake Ruzich sustained an injury that would ultimately see him sidelined for the next two games, and Virginia was without a backup goalkeeper.

“We don’t have a coach, so as a whole we’re really coaching collectively,” senior midfielder and captain David Ellis said. “Everyone on the team has an input, whether it be pregame or halftime decisions, everyone is pretty vocal in that sense.”

Since Virginia played as one of only a handful of teams at the entire tournament without a coach, the decision was left to the team. Senior midfielder Josh Glazier stepped up and volunteered to play the position. Over the course of the next two games, the quarterfinal and semifinal, Virginia posted two 1-0 victories.

The goals came courtesy of sophomore forward Tyler Miller-Jones, a name that would appear consistently on the score sheet throughout the entire tournament.

“We went after the idea that the team really needs this,” Ellis said. “[It] would be doing something really selfless.”

After Glazier took on the responsibility, the team came together even closer than ever before. The sense of trust and unity that Ellis and fellow co-captain and senior midfielder Scott Patterson had been working to build among the team was put to the ultimate test, and from this test emerged a single, unstoppable unit.

“The team responded brilliantly,” Patterson said. “It brought us together in a way we never had been before.”

Following these two victories, the Cavaliers moved on to the championship match versus the Ohio State Buckeyes. Goalkeeper Blake Ruzich returned for this match, and Virginia came out firing on all cylinders. Miller-Jones netted a goal within the first 11 minutes.

Ohio State responded within two minutes of this goal, but by the stroke of halftime, the Cavaliers were on top 3-1, courtesy of goals from Tresness and junior midfielder Brian Liebowitz. Heading into the second half, the Buckeyes attempted to launch a comeback, netting one goal in the 50th minute.

But Virginia’s defensive effort, led by senior defenders Brooks Nopper and Conor Kelly, proved to be too much for the Buckeyes. When the final whistle sounded, Virginia was the National Champion for the first time ever.

“[The team] means more than I can express,” Miller-Jones said. “I've made friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Following tournament play, five of Virginia’s players were named to the all-tournament squad. Ruzich, Brooks, Kelly, Tresness and Miller-Jones were all deemed worthy of all-tournament honors, with Miller-Jones being named MVP of the tournament.

“I'm absolutely elated and humbled that I was awarded the title,” Miller-Jones said. “In all honesty, my job as a forward was to score goals and I was lucky enough to score some, but only because of my teammates. This MVP award is as much the entire Club soccer team's as it is mine.”

However, the strong showing of Virginia players on the all-tournament team did not tell the entire story. A major deciding factor in this year’s championship stemmed from a sense of balance. The distribution of players across all years provided for a network of accountability and collective leadership.

Talent has always been a staple characteristic for the Cavaliers in the realm of club soccer, with many players often transferring in from varsity-level collegiate teams. However, this year, talent was complemented by other new pathways to success.

“We had guys from all classes contribute in a major way,” Patterson said. “Highlighting accountability throughout the entire season was massive.”

The underclassmen on the team ended up filling three or four key slots, with a strong group of senior players leading the charge and a heightened drive for success radiating throughout the entire team.

“There was an understanding this could be the last real competitive soccer that any of us played,” Ellis said. “The level of competition really cranked up.”

The team-wide sense of leadership, accountability and competition proved to be the difference this year for Virginia. The season-long goal of winning a national championship was achieved, and they became more than a team.

“It was really special all around,” Patterson said. “Celebrating on the field with these guys after the game is something I will never forget.”

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