The Knox Men’s Soccer team held their annual Alumni vs. Varsity match this past Saturday, managing to fend off the alums in a hard-fought battle ending in a 5-2 victory for the current Varsity team.
The game consisted of two 30-minute halves, as opposed to the the standard 45 minutes, helping both sides play in the balmy, sunny, 78-degree weather. A total of 23 Alumni returned for this year’s match.
The first half began slow, as each team fought, matching intensity with no real progress. At the 15-minute mark, Varsity was able to sneak in a ground ball, leading the alums 1-0, contrary to the score board’s 1-1.
The Varsity team continued strong, scoring again with three minutes left in the half. Alumni defense became increasingly physical, led by assistant coach Clint Moore ‘09. Moore surprisingly did not foul when he grabbed and threw to the ground a Varsity forward that had beat him. Ending the first half with a 2-0 lead, contrary to the score board’s 3-2, varsity sat with new Head Coach Tyler Sheikh talking strategy. The alumni sat strategizing on the other side of the field, while maintaining hydration with coolers of beer.
The second half proved livelier than the first, each team hitting their stride. Varsity successfully maintained possession within a new formation, while Alumni successfully utilized the physicality of the sport, learning early the referee was not calling fouls.
Varsity, giving up numerous corner kicks, succumbed to nasty heckling by the Alumni team, as often happens with close-encounter plays.
“Cody, your sock’s untied,” Moore shouted to junior goalkeeper Cody Boal during a particularly crucial alumni corner. This did not slow the Varsity team as they scored their third and fourth goals in the forty-fourth and forty-sixth minutes.
Alumni forwards changed their approach to a more aggressive style, aware of the comeback they needed to make. They began working together, teaming up on players, often Boal after a save, hoping to coax him off the ball.
The referee, having a change of heart, awarded the Alums a penalty kick in the fifty-second minute, producing their first goal, the score board reading 6-4 Varsity. Each team scored within the last three minutes and resulted in the final score of 5-2 varsity, or 5-16 according to the official score board.
“They had a couple nice moves,” Sheikh said of the Alumni. “I was telling them [Varsity] play to feet and when the ball was on their foot they [Alumni] still got it. They obviously know how to read the game, they’re students of the game themselves, but ultimately I hope they had fun.”
The Varsity vs. Alumni game has been a Knox tradition since the 90’s. Former head coach, Matt Edwards, modified it from taking place during Homecoming to a spring game.
“Oh it’s fun. I think it’s great. I’m glad there’s so much more energy in the Knox Men’s Soccer program. We’re glad they got the excitement back in the program in many ways,” Mike Lenz ’89, said. Many of the Alums return each year to participate since Edwards moved the game.
The Men’s Soccer team has drawn large crowds on campus the past two seasons and alums assure that extends beyond campus.
“We see them play down south,” Rich Stempinski ‘89 said.
“There are some of us who watch them when they come to Chicago,” Mike Boyd ’86 added.
This game was the first in which Sheikh and the Alumni were able to meet, each side respectful of the other.
“He’s got tough shoes to fill, but he has a positive attitude, he has a good team, he has good players. I think [the program] will be different, but I think it will be successful,” Boyd said.
When asked what it meant to have over 20 Alums returning to support the program, Sheikh recognized the impact of the current program.
“I think it means they really enjoyed their experience here. As men’s soccer players representing Knox College, we have some guys from ’78, ’79, the ’88 championship team, all the way up to our current squad. I think it says a lot that they’re coming back, generations after generations, they care a lot about it, they’ve seen some improvements, but they certainly want to see some more improvements.”
The annual game has become a tradition that current players look forward to, specifically their senior year as they make their right of passage and play for the Alumni team. The current Alumni remind those graduating soon why they come out year after year.
“Oh just, bring back the glory days from when we were here,” Lenz said. “It’s just good to come out here and break a sweat… and remember how old we are.”