After a difficult season last year playing in the upper division of the West Coast Soccer Association, Cal Poly’s men’s club soccer advanced to the 16th National Campus Championship Series.
Finishing second in league this season behind the University of California, Santa Barbara is an improvement for the team after taking last place out of eight teams last fall. Last season was the first time the team played in an upper division league; aerospace engineering senior and keeper David Babka said the team wasn’t used to the level of competition last year. This season the team came out knowing what to expect, he said, ultimately gaining themselves a second-place name in the league.
The men’s team left for Phoenix, Ariz. on Tuesday to play in the tournament. Its first two pool-play matches are against the University of Minnesota and University of Illinois. Cal Poly’s team is one of 24 in the country who qualified to play in nationals.
Babka attributed the team’s success to the fact that most of them have played together since the club was founded in 2007. Eleven of the first division players have played together for three years. Industrial engineering senior and midfielder Spencer Martinez thinks this is the most successful year so far because of the team chemistry.
“The team’s clicking well. The level of commitment is really high,” he said.
Coach Johnny Costa said that after the team “did horrible last year,” economics junior and club president Matt Joanou rallied the team to improve this year.
“Matt really gave us focus and gave us a purpose. If it wasn’t for him we really wouldn’t be going to nationals this year,” Costa said.
Joanou and industrial technology senior Alex Strehl founded the club knowing the team would generate a large following but not expecting the turnout to be as great as it has been this season.
The level of dedication is high among the players. They’re expected to train during Week of Welcome, pulling double days of practice. For the past seven weeks the team has trained three to four times a week and has played more than 10 games.
“All the guys involved have put in so much time and effort to get to this point. It’s an exciting time for us. This is what we build the club to do. We want to always be a national competitor, a legacy. We hope will continue for years to come at Poly,” Joanou said.
He thinks the team has an advantage over other teams at nationals because of the number of club players. With nearly three players for every position on the field, the team is prepared to play possibly six games in three days.
Since the club team is not a varsity team recognized by the Cal Poly athletics department, it has to run and fund their own team. Costa and Joanou estimate the trip will cost around $10,000. The team’s hotel rooms were paid for by an anonymous alumnus donation and the players held a movie night fundraiser to pay for tournament fees and travel expenses.
Martinez believes the amount of time players commit to keeping up the business and athletic parts of the program pays off in the end.
“We have made a lot of sacrifices for the team, but it’s so worth it. The climax is here and it’s definitely worth it,” he said.