Men’s Soccer Seniors’ Togetherness Led Team to New Heights

CWRU Men's Soccer seniors Chas Novitsky, Marques Manta, Zachary Senft, Kyle Lewis, Garrett Winter, Nicholas Bertrand and Brian Woo.

By Eddie Kerekes, Sports Information Assistant

It was October 28, 2018, and the Case Western Reserve University men's soccer team began to relax on the bleachers. A few players dozed off from exhaustion as the team watched the women's team play in Atlanta. It was a much-deserved rest as the Spartans had just beaten Emory University on the same field 3-0, two days after traveling to Rochester, New York and beating the Yellowjackets 3-2 in overtime on a cold night. For the first time in 12 years, a Spartan men's soccer team swept a road University Athletic Association weekend.

However, that was not the only achievement for the CWRU men's soccer team that season. The team became the most successful in program history later that year, advancing to the quarterfinals of the 2018 NCAA Division III Men's Soccer Championships in just the program's third all-time tournament appearance. The squad finished with a 16-4-2 overall record and placed seventh in the final United Soccer Coaches Association Division III Top 25 Poll, the highest final mark in program history.

Some of the team's key players that season were juniors, who entered their final year at CWRU in 2019-20. Defender Brian Woo, midfielder/forward Zachary Senft, and midfielder Garrett Winter all made penalty kicks in the team's thrilling tournament match with Kenyon College, pushing the Spartans to the quarterfinals. Midfielder Marques Manta appeared in all but one of the team's games and added two goals and four assists in 2018. Rounding out the class are defender Nicholas Bertrand, defender/midfielder Kyle Lewis, and midfielder Chas Novitsky, who each appeared in a few games that season.

That class, who are set to graduate this spring, set themselves apart with both their success on the field and their closeness off it. Former Spartan Head Coach Brandon Bianco, who worked with the class for four years, said, "Most classes are close, but this group is especially close. They are wonderful young men that care about each other in a really deep and empathetic way."

Players on the team credit that closeness to living together throughout their time on campus, a unique accomplishment for a men's soccer class.

Senft said, "I've been on many teams in my life where you play with guys for 10 years, but over the short time of playing together, living together, and working together we have all grown so close, and I think that is unique to our class."

Woo credited the group's constant communication and dialog, especially during breaks from the academic year. Even during the remote learning of this semester, players still video conference with each other over Zoom to study and hang out.

Of course, togetherness alone does not lead a team to the tournament. The class set out to achieve that specific goal and worked hard to accomplish it, on and off the field. For Winter, it was the first time the team had come together to plan such a large goal, and he hopes that goal-setting mindset will continue with other classes.

Senft added, "We have set a new precedent for how things should be done in this program, both on and off the field. On the field, we were a part of a group that was the most successful in CWRU soccer's history, and the work ethic and dedication and commitment that team lived by will live on through future teams."

With the players set to graduate and start master's programs or full-time jobs, Woo felt it was important to impart a level of perspective to the current players and incoming class. For him and the other members of the Class of 2020, the four years went by too quickly.

"The main thing that I wanted to instill in the players was to not take it for granted," Woo said. "Every time you're together with the team, just try to appreciate every little moment."

While memories of victories and Zoom study sessions may fade, the men's soccer senior class's final legacy will be in the closeness of their friendships.

Bianco summed it up best, "The real impact is in the quality of the relationships they've created with each other and with their other teammates. It's a wonderful group."