The Georgetown men’s soccer team has acted like the championship program it is as it’s navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through losing a season, to losing players to graduation and professional soccer, the Hoyas have persevered and are now one win away from a return to the College Cup — which is soccer’s final four.
The Hoyas are schedule to play Marshall in an NCAA quarterfinal game Monday afternoon in Cary, North Carolina.
In December of 2019 the Georgetown men’s soccer team was on top of the world. The Hoyas had just won their first NCAA title and were eager for the coming year and a chance to win it all again.
“We were expecting our 2020 team, which was going to kick off in August of 2020, to potentially be better, more experienced than the team that won the national championship,” said Georgetown head coach Brian Wiese.
Instead, the Hoyas’ dream of lifting another trophy had to be deferred. Health and safety of the student athletes took priority for the season. For Georgetown, it meant there was no traditional fall college soccer season and there was uncertainty about playing in the spring.
The uncertainty about a spring season led seniors Sean O’Hearn, Jack Beer and Foster McCune to decide to graduate instead of staying on for an extra semester at Georgetown. Sophomore goalkeeper Tomas Romero left for a contract with LAFC. During the season, Rio Hope-Gund and Derek Dodson joined Orlando City SC and Jacob Montes tried out for an unnamed club in the English Premier League.
“We’ve really reinvented ourselves late in the season, and had a lot of young guys step in and get some unbelievable experiences,” Wiese said. “For them to play in an elite eight game with a chance to go to another College Cup is unbelievable. Some of the younger players were forced to go from understudies to lead roles and scoring goals and impacting games.”
In fact, the Hoyas two leading scorers are sophomores Dante Polvara and Chris Hegardt. Another sophomore, Aidan Rocha, has been a steadying influence in midfield all season long. Freshmen have been leaders, too, with Kyle Linhares providing two assists in the Hoyas 3-2 win over Penn State to reach the quarterfinals and at the back, defender Kenny Nielsen has been a rock starting all 13 games in his first year.
With pride, Wiese has watched all of his players grow through a difficult period and believes they have become more resilient. He recalled a preseason trip to Pittsburgh, when, halfway there, the bus had to turn around and return to D.C. because of a positive COVID-19 test. Wiese said his players were “understandably disappointed,” but handled the sudden and dramatic change in plans in stride.
“Losing a year is a massive percentage of a college athlete’s experience and it has been a hard year,” Wiese said. “It is special then to see how much they’ve appreciated being back together and playing. I think they all will tell you, it’s really has grown their appreciation for what they do and playing the sport they love.”
Wiese added that it feels like the time together with his team is a “bit more precious” and he sensed a relief and joy in the players that they are no longer worried about just getting on the field, but the concern is focused on a national championship
“We were wondering, could we go to the NCAA tournament and win five games in a row against really good opposition, because maybe we didn’t have the depth that we had in January,” Wiese said. Now, we just have to win three games. It won’t be easy, but it doesn’t seem so hard and really matters the players are just having fun again.”