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Soccer’s ECAC Runs Leave Hope for Future

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On November 7, it was announced that both Goucher’s women’s and men’s soccer teams scored a bid to compete in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) tournament. A week later, they continued into the postseason and played ECAC games for the first time in school history.  

The women’s team was ranked at the number four seed, and set to play in Madison, New Jersey against top-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson University Florham on November 12. They ended up blanking, and ended their season with a 3-0 loss. 

“Everyone on our team worked extremely hard to get to the point that we did,” said Belle St. Jean ‘24 after the game, “While losing in the semifinals of ECACs was unfortunate, I am still very proud of the effort and determination that we showed.” 

The women’s team recorded its highest win total since 2015, posting eight wins this season, and finished with a 1.00 team goals-against average– its lowest since 2012. 

“We had a really great run with getting a winning record and getting to play in ECACs which was an amazing experience,” said St. Jean, “I’m already looking forward to next season!”

The men’s team was ranked second seed, and hosted third seed Neumann at Beldon Field on November 12. 

Going into the game, Ali Kazim Nakhid ‘23 said that he “felt like we all still had something to prove.” 

“We were at the point where, for me, every game was bigger than us,” said Nakhid, “Winning meant one more reason that we are in fact the best team in this program’s history.” 

The Goucher men had already bested Neumann once early in the regular season, but Nakhid warned his teammates that this game would be more difficult. Following a slow start to the game, during halftime he gave his teammates an impassioned speech, reminding them that the game was more than just a scrimmage. 

His words worked as motivation, and the team won 1-0 thanks to last-minute heroics by Xavier Dever ‘23, who scored with 14 seconds remaining in the game. 

Dever said this win was “one of the most memorable games of [his] life,” in a string of many incredible games the team had this season. 

Above: Xavier Dever on the field for Goucher, Feature image: the women’s team lines up at Beldon Field (images courtesy of the Goucher Athletics Website

Following the win, the men moved into the quarterfinals on November 13, facing off against number one seed Alvernia. Despite the cold, crowds turned out to support the Gophers at home. 

Nakhid said he “never really notices the crowd when playing, but on Sunday [he] felt them.” 

“I had never seen the atmosphere at Goucher like that,” he said, “It was freezing outside, I didn’t think that many people would show up. But they did. And they stayed… We really weren’t out there on our own.” 

After being down 2-0 for much of the game, the Gophers rallied, scoring twice in the last five minutes of regulation to take the game into overtime. Nakhid recalled the last two minutes of the game in detail, every second, every movement, every snap-decision, in precise detail. 

“We clawed back. Yaya [Diabagate] scored the first with four minutes left, and I said to myself ‘okay, now’s the time,’” said Nakhid. 

With the help of teammates Adrian Mubiru and Andres Aristimuno, Nakhid was able to score, sending the game into extra minutes. After two scoreless overtimes, the game went into a shootout, which Goucher lost 4-5. 

For the players, that loss was painful. 

“It was heartbreaking,” Nakhid said, “more-so than after the Etown game in Landmark, because it felt like it was really over.” 

Despite that, he has no regrets in his choices, or in how his team played. 

“They put it all out there, what more can you ask?” he said. 

Dever agreed and said, “the team has nothing to be ashamed of, we battled the entire season and unfortunately came up short right at the end.” 

Both men shared strong emotional ties towards the others on their team, and expressed incredible gratitude when looking back on the season. 

“This season not only left me with great memories and experiences, but also friendships and bonds that will last much longer than my years here at Goucher,” said Dever, “There’s nothing better than playing the best sport on Earth with your brothers.” 

So yes, the loss hurt. These teams trained for months, and accomplished incredible things, but there were still a few dreams left unfulfilled. 

Nakhid is graduating– he’ll never put on the blue and gold uniform again. However, he isn’t worried about the fate of his team. 

“Soccer is a cruel lover. Surely after joy there is pain, and surely after pain there is joy,” he said, “The program goes on. It doesn’t end at us, despite it feeling like it does. It goes on.”

Goalkeeper Alessandro Sternini ’26 Recounts Men’s Soccer’s Return to Landmark Playoffs

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It was dark out when first-year Alessandro Sternini walked into the dining hall lobby, freshly showered after an evening soccer practice ran late. He hadn’t even had time to grab dinner yet when he met to talk with me about the men’s soccer season.

After looking around the empty lobby he spotted me in a corner booth and smiled as he sat down. We skipped the introductions, having corresponded via email for several days. Wearing a disarming smile and a wholesome, kind, open attitude, Sternini quickly won me over, despite having never met him in person before. 

It was in a similar fashion that he won over his coaches earlier this season. Hailing from Rome, Italy, Sternini grew up on soccer.

“I played goalie on a youth professional team – Lazio,” he said, then quickly began to spell the team name for me, pronouncing “Z” as “zed,” in European fashion.

COVID hit Italy hard, and once the pandemic had died down, Sternini found himself looking for a change.

“Post COVID, I moved to the U.S for my senior year of high school, in Massachusetts, near Springfield,” he said, “I played my senior season there.”

He was connected with Goucher coach Bryan Laut through a friend and now, one year later, he’s enjoying the experience. 

The men’s soccer team has posted a successful season; the Gophers claimed nine wins, the most in a season since 2006.

“The strength of the team is not in the individual, it’s in the group,” Sternini said.

He realized this during the first chunk of the season, during which he did not get playing time.

“In the beginning, I didn’t start, but I was putting 100% effort in practice,” Sternini said.

The coaching staff noticed his hard work, and when the Gophers played at Neumann on September 05, Sternini was put in the game. Goucher ended up winning 5-3, and Sternini became the main goalkeeper for the Gophers. 

From the beginning, the coaches told this team they were a special group.

“They kept saying we could end up doing something good,” said Sternini of the coach’s expectations, “but words aren’t something where then you can just go on the field and play; you need something behind it, and with every win, we got more confidence and the chemistry was…” Here Sternini paused, searching for the right word, before apologizing, as he laughed and shook his head in mild frustration. He continued, “The team was bonding, building confidence that it was an important group and could do something good.”

Something good indeed. The Goucher men’s soccer team finished out October with a return to the playoffs for only the second time in program history, and the first time since 2014. The team came from behind to win 2-1 against Moravian on Saturday, October 29, and successfully clinched its spot to advance to the playoffs.

When I asked him about the energy the team had following that come-from-behind victory at home, Sternini ducked his head, chuckling. He then told me that, with less than ten minutes left in the game, he was subbed out. He had received a hit to the head, and required staples to close the wound.

“Neither me or Coach wanted it, but apparently it was a bad injury, and the trainer said I needed to get staples immediately. So I missed the celebration,” he paused for comedic emphasis, before chuckling as he finished his thought, “But I know the team was celebrating while I was in the hospital.” 

Sternini in action, image courtesy of @gouchermenssoccer on Instagram. Feature image at top courtesy of the Goucher Athletics website.

Energy was high the days before the first playoff game Wednesday, November 02. The school hosted a bus to bring rowdy students out to support their team as they aimed to create history in the postseason. However, for Sternini, Wednesday’s game wasn’t a guarantee.

“I went to Coach three hours before the bus left to try [playing] with a helmet and see how it would feel.” he said.

The trial ended up going well, and together he, the trainers, and the coaching staff decided Sternini would play goalkeeper in Goucher’s first postseason game for nearly a decade, with a helmet on to protect his recent wound.

The Gophers, sitting as the third-seed team, went on to suffer a heartbreaking loss to number-two-seed Elizabethtown that night, in a penalty kick shootout after a 0-0 double-overtime tie.

“Their third place finish is the best all-time and we couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity to compete in the Landmark Conference Tournament,” Senior Associate Athletic Director Andrea Ricketts-Preston, “While the result in the semi-finals at Elizabethtown wasn’t what we had hoped for, seeing our students, staff and faculty come out to support the team was impressive.”

Another silver lining is that, despite the loss, the team played well both offensively and defensively. Goucher got a number of solid shots off during the game, but all were blocked by the Blue Jay’s goalkeeper. Likewise, Sternini made six saves, leading to what was his fifth shutout of the season.

“It was an important game,” Sternini said, his face getting serious for the first time in the entire discussion. “It ended up with penalty kicks. I saved the first one, but unfortunately penalty kicks are a coin flip, and we ended up losing it.”

He hesitated, before adding softly “the atmosphere was pretty bad after that.”

Now, less than a week later, hope is renewed for the men’s soccer team. The coaches’ predictions of this group being special have indeed rung true; It was announced on Monday, November 07, just hours before my meeting with Sternini, that Goucher had secured a spot for the ECAC tournament, for the first time in program history.

The school will host games Saturday, November 12 and Sunday, November 13, with Goucher playing in Game One on Saturday afternoon. Their opponent? Neumann, the team Sternini started his collegiate career defending against two months ago. Speaking for the team, Sternini said “We’re excited about being… here at home Saturday, to play Neumann, who we already faced during the season. We hope to feel strong, as we did in every game we faced, and just play.”

For more information regarding the tournament schedule and results, please visit athletics.goucher.edu.

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