Knox Men’s Soccer had an eventful weekend as they welcomed alumni back to campus this past Friday and Saturday. Head Men’s Soccer Coach Tyler Sheikh carried on the spring tradition of hosting their annual Knox Soccer vs. Knox alumni game.
Knox Men’s Soccer made a conscious effort under the direction of former Head Men’s Soccer Coach Matt Edwards to reconnect with the Men’s Soccer alumni and to stay connected with those recently graduated. Holding the Alumni Game each spring allows for current and former players to build stronger ties while bonding over the sport they love. These tight Knox-Alumni relations set a strong foundation for the Knox Soccer program, but also for setting up connections through alumni in various fields of employment.
“We try and bring in a Knox student every summer to clerk for us [BiState Law Center] and it usually ends up being a soccer guy,” 2004 graduate Matt Nagel said. “Both Tyler and Matt have done a great job of reaching out, kind of when that contact had been lost.”
Continuing this recent tradition under the new direction of Sheikh, many alumni made an appearance back on Knox Campus to support the program and have a good time during the game.
Arguably the most impactful turnout for the alumni bench was the return of Edwards himself. Edwards was present and once again cheered his senior players on as they joined the alumni team before he himself stepped onto the field.
“I really wanted to see the guys before they graduated,” Edwards said. “I know that leaving the senior group, specifically, hurt them, and I felt a lot of guilt about leaving them, about when I left them, how I left them and all of that good stuff. When you have a once in a lifetime opportunity you have to take it, but at the same time those kids mean the world to me and I wanted to see them before they graduated.That was really important for me and I’ve always preached that when you graduate you have to come back, so I needed to practice what I preached a little, too.”
Edwards was the coach behind Men’s Soccer’s rapid success in the conference, and he feels particularly attached to the current senior class who began the same year at Knox as he did; they were the players who helped build the team to what it is today. The Alumni Game gave him the opportunity to return and celebrate their continued success, now with Sheikh.
The game itself is an hour long, with two 30-minute halves in which the alumni team and senior players play the current Men’s Soccer freshman-through-junior class. With many of the four-year starting seniors playing for the alumni, the game remained high-paced and even. The current players were humbled by legacy before them, but were also hungry to win.
“Scoring on the alumni is always an honor, especially when the defense is made up of guys you used to play with like Max Gatyas ‘14 or the former assistant coach Clint Moore,” junior striker Jacob Ly said. “If I didn’t score against them, I don’t think I would have heard the end of it.”
The final score was 6-4, though some may debate it, as points were added without goals being scored, though both current members and alumni agree the game is for competition, but also for fun.
“Both teams wanted to win and that’s what made it fun,” freshman James Barrington said. “I really enjoyed playing against the seniors who I played with this season. At the start, both teams came out all guns blazing, but then we were the more in-shape team, and had more subs, so we finished the game with the upper hand.”
The current team uses the Alumni Game as an opportunity to simulate a seasonal opponent, with a pre-match talk and scouting report of the other team, says Barrington. The alumni, on the other hand, use the game as a way to test their own skills and play with former teammates.
“The alums come back because it’s just the nostalgia of being on Prats Field, moving the ball around and being out there with all your best friends and people that you’re close with,” Edwards said.
When asked it they trained in the days or weeks leading into the game weekend, a few alumni laughed.
“I had a couple of beers in the locker room getting ready,” Nagel said. “I felt very confident coming into the game that I’m no longer 90 minutes fit.”
Former teammate, good friend and 2005 graduate Brett Zinter added, “There’s always the hope we can keep up with 20-year-olds, but I don’t think we can.”
Looking forward, returning players are optimistic for upcoming seasons despite graduating impactful seniors.
“With the seniors’ departure, this is one of the most exciting times I have experienced in my four years with the program,” senior Will McGowan said. “Although it breaks my heart to see the teammates I grew so close with move on, I am thrilled for the opportunity it leaves all my remaining teammates with. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone on this team is ready, and eager to make up for the talent we are losing. The future is bright for us, we are all looking forward to coming back in preseason and competing, once again, for the Midwest conference championship.”