Western New England men’s soccer preparing for first round of NCAA tournament
SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The men’s soccer team at Western New England University traveled to Vermont on Friday as the program prepares for the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
Friday was one last practice for the Golden Bears on the Western New England University men’s soccer team as the blue and gold geared up for a position the program has not been in since 2016: going to the NCAA tournament. Some seniors, like Roger Leland and Ryan Suprin, are thrilled for the opportunity.
“Being my first NCAA tournament, and for a lot of the other guys as well, (we plan to) just enjoy it, take it in. Obviously, we are going to compete,” Leland said.
“It’s a big experience and we’re going to take it for what it is,” Suprin added. “We’re one of 64 teams that are practicing right now, so it’s a good feeling, but it’s also…you got to respect your opponent in every aspect.”
The team was off to a rough start, having a record of 0-3-4 after seven games, but head coach Devin O’Neill told Western Mass News that his players neither stopped working nor believing.
“Year-in, year-out, we try to be bought into the process. Results typically follow performance and our performances weren’t bad,” O’Neill said.
The Golden Bears finished the regular season 6-6-5 and clinched the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship. Now, the team is heading to Middlebury, VT for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Senior Sean Ianzillo, though, said the upcoming contest against Middlebury College will be like any other contest.
“Practice has been the same as it always has been. We put our heads down, we get to work, we don’t care who we’re playing, we still work with the same intensity,” Ianzillo explained.
The players said support from the campus has been overwhelming.
“I’ve had people coming up to me just saying ‘good luck,’ ‘congrats,’” Ianzillo added.
“Our families have a lot to do with it. We have tailgates after the games. I’m a sports management major, so a lot of my teachers pay attention to the sport,” Leland said.
No matter how far the team goes, O’Neill said that perseverance is the main takeaway from this memorable run.
“Hard work pays off. It doesn’t always guarantee you an opportunity to win, but it gives you a chance,” O’Neill said.
The Golden Bears take on the Middlebury College Panthers at 11 a.m. Saturday, with the winner taking on either Babson or Johns Hopkins on Sunday.
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