Loyola’s men’s club soccer team will travel to Phoenix next week to make its first appearance at the NIRSA national championships. On Nov. 19-21, the Ramblers will compete against 23 of the best club teams from around the country.
Club sports are separate from Loyola’s NCAA Division I teams. Tryouts are held every year for most club sports teams, and they are open to all students, but scholarships are not available for players.
For four years, the men’s club soccer team has shown improvement from one season to the next, developing more talent and skills.
Senior club president Cam Callipari said the team has risen in the ranks every season.
“When [Piotr Karp and I] started as first-years, the club was middle of the pack to bottom,” said Callipari, a biology major. “Every year we have started to work, develop players and pick good talent. This year especially, we won as a team. We really came together and that is what put us above of a lot of the other teams.”
However, the men’s club soccer team wasn’t considered competitive until last year when it had its first truly successful season, according to Callipari. After years of struggling to put together a solid team, the Ramblers broke through and made it to the regional tournament.
The team was determined to bring last year’s positive momentum into this season. Loyola built off last season’s success and turned it into a wild card bid for nationals. The team was selected for the wild card due to its performances in the regular season and the regional tournament.
The Ramblers went undefeated until the last game of the season when they lost to the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, finishing the regular season with a 10-1-0 record. The team holds the title of best team in Chicago after beating every other Chicago school’s club team.
The huge achievements during the regular season gave the team momentum, which continued into the postseason, according to Callipari.
“The confidence started to build and it just rolled down from there,” said Callipari. “[In] the first game of the regional tournament, we beat the defending national champs Ohio State 2-0.”
The team’s goal was simply to perform well at regionals, but the win over Ohio State proved the Ramblers could compete against the best teams in the country.
According to junior center midfielder Mario Rocco, the win against Ohio State proved to the team that making it to nationals was a realistic goal.
“That Ohio State game really solidified where we are in terms of the rest of the nation,” said Rocco. “We beat the returning national champs [and] outplayed them; we didn’t get lucky. We showed we’re better than they are and we could be better than any other team in the country.”
Although the team beat the reigning national champs, Loyola wasn’t able to win the regional tournament. The team played four games in two days, and its third game, the regional semifinal, went into double overtime.
In the second half of the last game against the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is also going to nationals, the Ramblers didn’t have enough in the tank. They lost the game 6-1 after going into the second half tied 1-1.
Fitness and injuries were the team’s biggest problem areas in regionals, and they are still areas for improvement as the team heads into nationals, according to Karp.
However, Rocco said the team doesn’t think its game plan needs to change going into the tough competition of the national tournament. Despite the fact most of the teams Loyola will face qualify for the national tournament every season, Karp said the team is still confident.
“We need to just do the same thing we did for regionals. We know we are the underdog,” said Karp, a senior political science and criminal justice double major. “We know how to play; we just need to go out there and do it.”
Callipari said the team is confident it can perform well because the tough competition in the Midwest prepared the Ramblers for nationals.
“We are coming out of a really good region and that is where our confidence comes from,” Callipari said. “Michigan State, Iowa State, Ohio State and the University of Illinois have all won in the past few years and we have beaten all of them.”
The Ramblers are embracing their status as the underdogs and hope to continue their successful season by performing well at nationals. The first games will be played on Nov. 19.