SAN ANTONIO, TX -- After a brief walk on the field at the Blossom Soccer Stadium where the Ephs will play Messiah in the National Semifinals on Friday at 5:00 PM CST, the Ephs headed to a brand new soccer complex for a one-hour practice.
The STAR Complex features 14 Bermuda grass fields and was first used on Wednesday when some of the semifinalists used the fields.
A spirited and technical session ensued from 10:35 to 11:35 AM as the Ephs worked up a good sweat and reviewed and fine-tuned the game plan for Messiah that head coach Mike Russo has been fashioning since seeing Messiah defeat Rochester 2-1.
On the way back to the hotel the team had lunch at the Spaghetti Warehouse before getting ready for their community engagement session at Alan B. Shepherd Middle School. The Bobcats of Alan B. Shepard were fired up to meet the Ephs.
The 200 students were given purple t-shirts by the San Antonio Sports Commission and the Ephs gave each student a Williams soccer pin complete with the vaunted purple cow.
Coach and teacher Sonia Ortiz met the Ephs as the got off the bus at the Alan B. Shepard Middle School and she told the team that the Bobcats were very excited to have Williams visit. She stressed that the kids at the school were from tough backgrounds and many from broken families. It was important, Ortiz emphasized, that the Ephs inspire and motivate the kids to work hard in school and develop a mental toughness.
As the Ephs approached the gym the students of Shepard Middle School began rhythmic pounding of their feet on the bleachers and exploded in shrieks and hollers when the team entered the gym.
Ortiz welcomed the Ephs and asked that each player give their name and where they were from. Each Eph from a big city got a huge applause, but Pierre Meloty-Kapella was a clear favorite of the students.
Junior midfielder Gaston Kelly related a story to the assembly about how when his family left Argentina because they had been robbed twice in a short amount of time and moved to the Boston area he could not speak a word of English. The only way Gaston was able to make friends and gain confidence was through playing soccer.
Kelly advised the students to “rely on each other, but invest in yourself.” “Put in the hard work now and in high school and you can do whatever you want to,” noted Kelly.
Meloty-Kapella also revealed that in sixth grade he was put in a special reading class and he hated it. He hated it so much that he worked hard to get out of there and get back to regular reading classes. For Meloty-Kapella who was born in France English was his second language. He encouraged the students to address their problems in the same manner.
Nick Pugliese made a point of telling the kids that you can do anything with a positive attitude and with enthusiasm. Pugliese told the group that it is not fatal to fail, because failure is correctible. “You might fail once, twice, but once you succeed you will know you can do something and then you will know you can do anything,” stated Pugliese.
Pugliese then got the gym jumping again when he started stomping on the floor to the tune “We will, we will, rock you!”
Andrew Trainor got the students to do two cheers – the soccer team’s “We love you Williams” and “WI-LLI-AMS.”
Next the Ephs showed off their juggling skills and then it was time for the Ephs to scrimmage the Shepard boys team… well, 3 Ephs with no goalie, versus six Shepard boys team field players and a goalie. To the delight of all of the students in the gym Shepard prevailed 2-0.
Upon returning to the hotel the Ephs had two hours of down time before heading over to the Alamo for a team picture and then on to the Championships Celebration Banquet.
At the banquet one player from each school gave a brief talk on their school and their team. Senior captain Conor Smith represented the Ephs. Following the talks was a video of all of the eight teams and then it was time for the first Elite 88 Award presentation in NCAA Division III soccer.
Eph sophomore midfielder Nick Pugliese was named the first male winner in Division III, based on the calculations by the NCAA, which revealed his GPA to be a 4.0.
The ELITE 88, an award founded by the NCAA, recognizes the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers. The Elite 88 is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 88 championships.
Student-athlete is at least a sophomore in academic and athletics standing, and in at least his or her second year of competition (in any sport) at his or her current institution.
Student-athlete is an active member on the roster and a member of the designated squad size for the championship site.