Cam Clouse ’19 took the first of the penalty kicks that would continue Colby’s remarkable late autumn run—or end its season. Clouse’s kick missed.

What he did next won’t be forgotten by those who watched Colby play Williams College through a scoreless regulation game and two scoreless overtimes. At stake, last Sunday, was the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III men’s soccer championship tournament.

It was time to take deep breaths to steady nerves. Clouse was Colby’s top goal-scorer and a co-captain. Instead of falling to the turf in misery, covering his head with his arms, Clouse wheeled to face his teammates waiting their turn at the Williams College goalkeeper. Clouse pointed at them. “We got this!” he yelled.

He was right.

Four of his teammates followed Clouse’s miss with successful penalty kicks and Colby goalkeeper Matt Johnson ’20 stopped two of Williams’ five shots.

The Mules won the PK shootout, 4-3. Colby was headed to the NCAA tournament for only the second time in its 59-year history. The team that had to beat rival Bates at the end of the regular season to claim the eighth and last seed of the conference tournament was king of the hill.

“The whole team plays defense. Everyone knows his job.” —Grady Jendzejec ’19

 

Cam Clouse ’19 leaps to head a ball during the NESCAC finals vs. Williams.

Colby’s next opponent is Montclair State on the Red Hawks’ home field in suburban New Jersey, less than an hour west of the George Washington Bridge and midtown Manhattan. (Saturday at 5 p.m. watch live here). The challenge for Colby head coach Ewan Seabrook is to not let this game become too big.

“This will be new,” said Seabrook, back on Mayflower Hill two days after the NESCAC final. “The players are familiar with NESCAC fields. My job is to manage and harness the different feel. Really, the game will take care of itself.”

Normally the image of intensity, Seabrook let himself smile. Colby’s record now stands at 8-6-4. The Mules were 3-5-2 in the very competitive NESCAC. The offense scored 18 goals in 18 games. Only one of Colby’s three tournament games was won in regulation—the 3-1 semifinal victory over Amherst. The quarterfinals and finals games were officially listed as 0-0 ties. Colby advanced because it won the penalty kick segment. Before the conference tournament, Colby won just one game by more than two goals—the 2-0 victory over Bates that pushed Colby into the tournament.

Colby Men's Soccer game

Goalkeeper Matt Johnson ’20 makes a crucial save during penalty kicks vs. Williams. Colby won the shootout 4-3 to capture the NESCAC championship.

Despite the record, or maybe because of it, Seabrook became a different coach, he said. In his fifth season he let himself step back occasionally and enjoy the moment. Like on Halloween, when he appeared at the soccer field for practice dressed as a superhero with a simple black mask and orange tunic and tights and superhero muscles.

Colby’s players laughed so hard they fell to the ground, said Seabrook. “They were roaring.”

All of them. Together.

He marvels at the selflessness of his 11 seniors and the other players and how much they enjoy each other’s company on and off the playing field. “It’s being as equals,” Seabrook said. “There’s no such thing as a first-year. But how can you build that relationship?”

This fall the seniors took it upon themselves to invite the first-years to their apartments to hang out, watch NFL games, and play video games. It’s not a novel concept, but too often the cycle of hazing first-years is part of any team’s culture and difficult to break, Seabrook said.

He thought for long moments before answering this question: As a first-year head coach, what was he looking for from the players he recruited to Colby?

“It was on-the-job training for me,” Seabrook said. “I took a little bit of a scattergun approach. I wanted to win quickly. I asked them for continuous improvement to develop as a person and a soccer player.”

He has gotten that—and more.

The team’s camaraderie is about “being as equals. There’s no such thing as a first year.” —Men’s soccer coach Ewan Seabrook

Colby Men's Soccer game

Ethan Fabricant ’22 unleashes the fifth penalty kick vs. Williams. Fabricant scored, forcing Williams to take a fifth shot, which was saved by Matt Johnson ’20. Fabricant’s older brother, Bobby Fabricant, was on the pitch for the Ephs.

“We’re a team of destiny,” said Jeff Rosenberg ’19. Rosenberg wasn’t being glib. He and the other seniors—Seabrook’s first recruits—were part of a program trying to build a new identity after Mark Serdjenian’s 38-year tenure as Colby men’s soccer coach ended after the 2012 season.

Last season ended 20 seconds short of the NESCAC tournament when Bates scored, pushing Colby out of the picture. “We were asking ourselves, why is this happening?” Rosenberg said. “We’ve worked hard. We came back (for their final season) believing that things have to go our way.”

They doubled down on their preparation for 2018. When they faced the same scenario against Bates at the end of another season, they shut out their in-state rivals. Both goals were the result of practices. Seabrook had outlined the approach to the shots on net and the team bought in and executed.

“No one is saying we shouldn’t be doing this or that,” said Grady Jendzejec ’19 “Everyone is on board.”

Trust is sometimes elusive when teams struggle to score goals and win games. Dan Carlson ’19 understood that he had to be perfect as goalkeeper to give Colby a chance to win. His teammates knew, too. “The whole team plays defense,” said Jendzejec. “Everyone knows his job.”

 

Colby Men's Soccer game

Jacob Tower ’19 beats a Williams defender to the ball during the NESCAC finals.

 

Carlson allowed 14 goals in the 17 regular season games he started. He was the stopper, and his teammates mirrored his confidence, especially after beating Bates to reach the tournament. “We felt like we can play with anyone,” Carlson said.

Colby upset Tufts, ranked second in the country, on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. Seabrook, trusting his intuition, switched goalkeepers after the second scoreless overtime, sending Johnson to save the game and the tournament season. Johnson had looked good in practice. Seabrook hadn’t known Johnson had practiced hundreds of PK saves in high school until he heard a voice behind him.

Will Johnson ’22, a team manager and Matt’s younger brother, told Seabrook after the decision was made.

“That made me feel better,” Seabrook said after practice, preparing for Saturday’s game. He had another slight smile on his face. “Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes a puff of air makes the difference between winning and losing.”

Matt Johnson stopped the PK shots that enabled Colby to beat Tufts. He got the call again in the championship game.

Colby Men's Soccer game

The Mules celebrate after a last Williams shot was saved by Matt Johnson ’20, giving the Mules the historic win.

“To be honest, I had felt a little bit on the outskirts of this team. I played my role (as back-up to Carlson, he started one game) but I wanted to contribute. Then coach told me ‘We know you’re good (at penalty kicks). Go do your thing.’”

Clouse’s defiant leadership the moment after his missed penalty kick was a defining moment. “We got this!” still rings in Nathan Chan’s ears. Chan was an economics professor at Colby from 2014 to 2017 and the team’s faculty advisor. He played intercollegiate soccer at California Institute of Technology. He witnessed the scene from the sideline.

Sometimes, with the approval of Seabrook, Chan would change into his playing gear and run onto the practice field with the players. One year away and now teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Chan still feels connected to Colby’s soccer team. “Cam didn’t want to be a distraction (after missing the first penalty kick),” Chan said. “This wasn’t about him. He was thinking of his teammates. They could win that game.”

As Clouse, Rosenberg, Carlson, Johnson, and all the others swarmed the playing field, Chan found himself caught up in their excitement. “All the hard work they did without realizing the rewards . . . that finally changed,” he said.

Chan has a wedding to attend in Boston on Saturday. After Colby beats Montclair State, he said, he’ll be in New Jersey for Colby’s next NCAA tournament game on Sunday.

He’s certain.