This time last year, the men’s soccer team at Wheaton was split at two wins, two losses and a tie. The starting lineup featured a number of seniors, including their lead goal scorer Aymara Sesay ’18. It’s been just over a year now, and the team that takes Keefe Field each game day looks drastically different. Of the 32 players on the roster, 14 are first-year students, several of them in starting positions.
The Lyons have also brought in new head coach, Bryan Waggoner, who has spent 11 years at Randolph College. He is the third man to hold the position in the last year, as longtime head coach Matt Cushing passed away unexpectedly just days before the 2017-18 season began. At its core, the team is still the same as it has always been: a group of men with a common goal, but they’ve hit bumps along the way. They sit split at two wins and two losses. To make matters worse, forward Nathan “Goose” Domingos ’20 suffered a broken foot in a preseason game, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.
In game performance, to this point, has been anything but consistent, especially shorthanded. The team showed promise in the preseason with impressive defensive outings, and opened the season surging after a 6-2 victory at Dean College. The next two contests were rife with defensive lapses and limited scoring opportunities. In their home opener against Western New England University, the team managed only one shot on goal. Three co-captains were chosen through team vote to lead the team this season: senior Curran Wait ’19, and juniors Neil Fitzgerald ’20 and J.D. Souza ’20. Each member of this trio provides varying insights into the mental state of this team, which still tries to find its identity on the field. Wait is one of the three seniors on the roster, and currently leads Wheaton in scoring with three goals on eight shots on target and two penalty kick conversions. A veteran of the soccer program, he imparts the difficulty of putting the product together.
A player stated, “Coach Cushin always made Wheaton feel like home, so having a head coach who’s new to Wheaton…we have to develop new tactics. It’s going to be a team effort.” Souza echoed the importance of solidarity going through the intense season schedule. “I think our attitudes have changed towards each other.” Souza said. “We’re much more positive. It makes for a good environment on and off the field.”
Along the same lines, Fitzgerald made it clear that there are high expectations for everyone going forward, by saying, “Everyone will need to play good team soccer. Our schedule is brutal—it is every year—but we’ll play two top four teams this year.” When asked what advice Cushing would give the team at this point, Wait shared one quote that’s telling of the attitude the entire team shares: “What would you do to survive?” After talking to each of them, it was clear that the confidence in one another is palpable, even this early on in the season.