Historic Season

Men's soccer team reaches NCAA Elite Eight

Case Western Reserve men's soccer players rush toward a teammate and goal keeper in celebrationPHOTO: James Blackwell

The men's soccer team celebrated advancing during the NCAA Division III tournament after penalty kicks against Kenyon College.

The Case Western Reserve men's soccer team posted its most successful season in 2018, reaching the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division III championship tournament. And the possibilities for next season are intriguing, with most of the players returning to campus in the fall.

Not only did the Spartans enjoy a 16-4-2 record, but their defense and goaltending were so smothering that rivals didn't score in nine matches.

The team netted 53 goals in 22 matches while allowing just 23 goals. And it never had a losing streak. The four defeats, except for the season-ending one, were followed by a victory.

"Nobody can take away the 2018 season from these guys," said Brandon Bianco, who has coached the Spartans for six seasons. "They poured their hearts and souls into it. They made the quarterfinals, putting themselves in the final eight of 416 Division III schools."

The accomplishment was even more impressive given the roster. It consisted of nine first-year students, seven sophomores, seven juniors and just five seniors—meaning that 23 of the 28 student-athletes are eligible to return for the 2019 season.

Bianco said the prospect of nine of the 11 starters returning was "pretty much a coach's dream."

So, too, was the 2018 team's determination and ability to win several games in high-pressure situations. The Spartans played in six matches that went to overtime, including one postseason game decided by penalty kicks, winning four and tying two. "I've never been part of a team when something like that happened," he said.

Zachary Senft, the Spartans' leading scorer as a junior last season with 10 goals and eight assists, said attitude was a key to their success.

"I've played for two years here, and while the skill level was the same in both seasons, the mentality of the team changed last year from 2017," said Senft, a mechanical engineering major. "There was an intensity that started in practice and it carried over to match day. We really banded together."

The team split its first two matches of the season, then won seven consecutive games before beginning conference play in the University Athletic Association (UAA).

It won four of its seven UAA matches, but two losses and a draw denied the Spartans the conference title. The team finished second to the University of Chicago (6-1).

The Spartans' run in the NCAA Tournament lasted four games. The team won the first two matches and advanced on penalty kicks during the round of 16 against Kenyon College, but was defeated by Calvin College in the quarterfinals.

Bianco knows what it took for the team to get as far as it did. "Case Western Reserve is a unique place for athletics," he said. "These are cerebral, intelligent, dedicated kids that we attract. Sometimes, because of [classroom] labs, we practice at 7 a.m. Other times, we practice as late as 9 p.m. Our students take on a pretty big commitment of study and soccer."

And, he added, "they are low maintenance."


Case Western Reserve men's cross-country runners coming off the start line during a racePHOTO: D3 Photography

The Case Western Reserve men's cross-country team placed 21st at the NCAA Division III championships in November, the team's highest finish at the national meet in 15 years. Sophomore Trey Razanauskas, junior David Hall and senior Zach Roshon each earned All-Region honors in 2018.

CWRU football player, Cameron Brown, making a tackle against a Carnegie Mellon playerPHOTO: Naji Saker

The university's football team finished the 2018 season with an 8-2 record and was ranked as high as 18th in Division III. Senior defensive end Cameron Brown was named an American Football Coaches Association All-American after finishing second in DIII with 15 sacks.

Two Case Western Reserve women's tennis players, Jessica Liu and Madeleine Paolucci, hold championship award plaques PHOTO: CWRU Athletics

Senior Jessica Liu and sophomore Madeleine Paolucci of the women's tennis team claimed Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-America honors after winning the ITA Division III Central Regional Doubles Championship in September, becoming the first CWRU duo— female or male—to win the event.

—Bob Roberts