UA men's soccer team 'left no doubt' in 2017 championship run
The Arizona men’s club soccer team won the 2017 NIRSA (National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association) tournament
Last November, the Arizona men’s club soccer team navigated a path of six games in a span of three days en route to their first-ever national championship. The club team took home the title in the Open Division of the NIRSA (National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association) Tournament, qualifying for the first time since 2012 with a regular season record of 14-8-1.
Recently, UA head coach Eric Rhodes reflected back on the unforgettable run.
“One of the things I love is, we won here, with kids from here,” Rhodes said. “We didn’t import a championship. We took the talent Tucson has, and they showed what Tucson is.”
Eleven players on last year’s roster are Tucson natives and have grown up representing southern Arizona their whole lives. The Reach 11 Sports Complex in Phoenix where the tournament was held was familiar territory for those who have taken endless trips there since their soccer careers began.
The 2017 season was Rhodes’s third year coaching the men’s team. Every year, the goals for his teams remain the same — bring home three trophies: conference, regional and national.
He also uses a different theme each year to have the players abide by.
This year, Rhodes said it was to “leave no doubt.” And the Wildcats did just that in the NIRSA Tournament.
UA faced and defeated the University of Colorado Springs, St. Edwards and Miami in group play. Then they handled Xavier in the quarterfinal and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for semifinals to punch their tickets to the finals against the Texas Longhorns. In the championship showdown, Arizona won a nail-biter by a score of 1-0 and were led in part due to heroics from junior forward Brian Molina, who had the game’s only goal.
Molina recalls that the game-winning goal was a “miss hit” — but however it was kicked, it worked for the ‘Cats. In the tournament, the Flowing Wells High School product scored five of the team’s 19 goals, including another game-winner in the semifinal match.
“He’s a natural striker; the kid was born to score goals,” Rhodes said of Molina.
However, winning a national title is a team effort. One of Rhodes’s biggest takeaways was that his team came together at the right time. Whether it was making a sprint back defensively to save a ball off the goal line or winning a ball in the air, nearly every action showed the team’s on-field chemistry.
“As a coach you love to see that stuff, you love the guy who just wants to be on the field,” Rhodes said.
Along with receiving the trophy for winning the national title, players were also acknowledged individually for their efforts. Captain Karai Keil was given the recognition of Tournament MVP. Starting goalkeeper, Chase Van Bibber was put on the National All-Tournament team alongside teammates Jeremy Siwik (Catalina Foothills HS), Peter Rudnick (Catalina Foothills HS) and Molina.
With six games in a span of 72 hours, the ball had to bounce just right for Arizona to make its title run.
“You need a lot of talent and a little luck — we for sure got it,” Rhodes said.
So, with a new season rapidly approaching, what will be the theme for next year?
Rhodes said it will be “relentless.” In the upcoming season, the team will compete in the World Cup Championships in San Antonio, Texas. Twenty-one players will be returning for the fall of 2018. Expectations are high for the UA men’s club soccer team, and winning back-to-back national titles will be the new objective.
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