This weekend marks a major milestone for one of DU’s club sports teams: Club Men’s Soccer will compete at the National Campus Championship Series (NCCS) National Soccer Championships in Memphis, Tenn., for the first time in recent memory.
After years of not even qualifying for the regional tournament, the team is ecstatic for the chance to play for the title.
“Finishing second in the league, taking third place in the regional tournament and qualifying for nationals is incredible,” team president Ryan Platz says. “This means that we are one of the top 24 collegiate club teams in the nation. Having helped my team qualify makes me proud. What we have accomplished this fall may be the first time in a long time for the men’s club team at DU.”
In pool play, DU will play against the University of Georgia and California Polytechnic State University. The top finisher in that pool will move onto the playoff round.
During the regional qualification tournament last month, the Pioneers finished in a draw against Colorado School of Mines and topped the University of Nebraska by a score of 3-0. But after a loss to in-state rivals from the University of Colorado, DU faced a must-win game against the University of Minnesota: Win, and qualify for nationals; lose, and go home empty. The team scored early and held on to the lead to win 2-1, giving them an automatic bid into the national tournament.
John Warner Pitsenbarger, who plays center midfield, says that it means a lot to the team to have qualified. “We as a team cannot recall the last time DU went to nationals for soccer,” he says. “It’s a good feeling, doing something for club sports, and hopefully will draw even more quality soccer players to DU. It’s a big step from where the program was a few years ago.”
Midfielder Goncalo Martins is honored to have helped the team qualify. “I am not going to hide that it was a surprise. One of the goals of the season was to
qualify to the regional tournament. But the determination and dedication of the players let the team fly higher and achieve a spot in the nationals.”
At the start of the season, Platz says the team set a goal to qualify for the regional tournament. With tough in-state competition from CU, Colorado State University and Mines, they knew the road to regionals wouldn’t be handed to them. But with a roster full of men who have played soccer for much of their lives, the team knew they had a chance at reaching their goal. Add in strong leadership (which Pitsenbarger says comes from the upperclassmen and graduate students on the team) and a passionate desire to represent DU, along with momentum from a successful regular season, and the Pioneers not only met their preseason goal but far surpassed it.
The team now heads to Memphis feeling united and with growing momentum on its side, ready to show the nation what DU has to offer. “It is really nice and a pleasure to be able to represent DU,” Martins says. “It is an honor.”
As the tournament gets underway, Pitsenbarger has only two words: “Go Pioneers!”