Recruiting Academic Athletes

 Photo Credit II Brandon Hill

Photo Credit II Brandon Hill

This is part of our coverage of the 2018 soccer teams. Read more about their journey here.

 


The King’s College is known for their debate team, academic rigor and Christian values. In an environment entrenched in academia, it may not be likely to find an undercurrent of athleticism.

Yet, the King’s College Men’s Soccer team is defying these odds. Currently, the team is ranked #4 in USCAA Division 2, with a 10-3 record. This is “their best finish in the league and first tournament appearance,” the HVIAC athletic conference said in a press release.

“The freshmen here now have no idea how much change has come from my freshman year to my junior year,” said Dan Fuenzalida, a junior who has played on the team for three years. “It’s changed drastically. I couldn’t have told you freshman year we could make a run at Nationals my junior year. I would’ve been like nah, there’s no way.”

The team does not have an overnight success story. It has taken years of hard work to overcome the challenges the team has faced as a sports team at a liberal arts school.

“The problem with King’s is that it is so unique,” said Tom Harman, head coach of the Men’s Soccer team. “The [athletes] need to be realistic about their sports career yet competitive.”

In the past, it has been difficult to recruit and retain talented players.

“It’s hard to figure out who to recruit,” Fuenzalida said.“You have to get a specific type of person to play soccer at King’s.”

The team does not have an overnight success story. It has taken years of hard work to overcome the challenges the team has faced as a sports team at a liberal arts school.

If the player cannot keep up academically, they leave. Losing players every year due to being unable to perform in the classroom, disrupts the team dynamic and prevents them from making sustained progress, Harman said. It is difficult to build a team if the players constantly rotate.

“We now tell recruits that if you want to play at King’s, you are the type of person who wants to be best at everything,” Harman said. “You are the type of person who wants to be the best in classroom and socializing, networking and be able to take advantage of the city. You are not the type of person who wants to play in the MBA or National League.”

As talent on the field is not always in tandem with talent in the classroom, finding the fit between the two has proved difficult. Collegiate athletes are known for their low grade point averages. According to the New York Times, collegiate athletes statistically do worse than their non-athlete counterparts.

At a school which seeks to equip students to lead strategic institutions, and create leaders who “integrate their faith, ethics, and morality into their lives and careers,” athletes are included.

“The phrase we started telling recruits is ‘there’s no time to play fortnight’,” Harman said with a laugh.

 Photo Credit II Brandon Hill

Photo Credit II Brandon Hill

Determining the type of athletes that fulfilled these qualifications took several years, but the results of this season prove these efforts are paying off.

“Coach Tom Harman figured out who to recruit,” Fuenzalida said. “This year, we got guys who really understand [King’s], and they are really good at soccer too.”

Midfielder Edvin Loefgren, a second-year transfer student from Vedersloev, Sweden, choose King’s because of the academic rigor, “The main reason why I decided to [transfer] was to be able to combine both academics with sports.”

Loefgren is the second highest scorer for the team, second to another freshman, Spencer Smith.

Loefgren realized his passion for soccer at the age of 6, when he joined his first official team. It was in high-school, he realized sports would be the gateway towards the education he dreamed of.

“The freshmen here now have no idea how much change has come from my freshman year to my junior year. It’s changed drastically. I couldn’t have told you freshman year we could make a run at Nationals my junior year. I would’ve been like nah, there’s no way.” —Dan Fuenzalida

“It’s a great opportunity to be in New York City, and play soccer with a great group of guys,” Loefgren said. “[Coach Harman] and the team motivate me.”

When Ben Oldham, a freshman who now plays centerfield, was deciding on colleges, he remembers being conflicted whether or not to play soccer. “I was debating whether to play, but when I visited the guys and coach, they were a group of guys I knew I’d want to be a part of.”  

For Oldham, it was both the academics and community that drove him to the soccer team. Oldham, Fuenzalida and Loefgren are business majors focused on academics and soccer.

“It’s all well and good learning things from books and in theory, but [in sports] you learn motivation and about discipline,” said Harman. He stresses there are certain values that just cannot be learned off the field.

 Photo Credit II Brandon Hill

Photo Credit II Brandon Hill

“You know within a few hours if [performance] wasn’t good enough,” Harman continued. “The biggest thing about sports to me is that who you are under pressure is who you really are. It is a real reflection of how you can be a better person. Sports puts pressure and you have to produce and you are going to get weighed and measured immediately. It’s constant feedback.”

This constant feedback and responsibility directly align with the values King’s seeks to instill in their students-- faith, ethics, and morality. Instead of academia working against athletes, rather, Harman believes the value system supported by the school assists in bettering athletic performance.

Josiah Simons, a junior, the third top scorer for the team this season, who has played soccer his entire time at King’s, agreed. “Growing up, trash talk and competition is part of the competitiveness of the game,” Simons said. He added that soccer, and sports in general, creates a culture centered around winning and not necessarily respect. At King’s, there is a difference.

“First in the way they talk to each other on the field,” Harman says. “[King’s men’s soccer team] is more respectful of each other and officials. Even after losses, we can pick out the really important things like did we sacrifice for each other? Did we give everything we could? Did we compete in an honest way?”

Anton Sorelin, a transfer sophomore, originally from Sweden, agreed that the community within the team has led to their success this season.

“I really like the community,” Sorelin said. “How close everyone is-- is like my family back home. We are like a brotherhood. We all help each other become better. If we don’t help each other out, then we won’t win games.”

This constant feedback and responsibility directly align with the values King’s seeks to instill in their students-- faith, ethics, and morality. Instead of academia working against athletes, rather, Harman believes the value system supported by the school assists in bettering athletic performance.

Through refined recruitment, dedication and working together as a community, a cohesive team is in the works. The addition of two assistant coaches and increased intensity of practices have also been factors, said Harman.

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The Lions have claimed the top three year-end awards. Freshman Spencer Smith, nabbed Rookie of the Year. Tom Harman, Todd Philips and Matt Anderson all received Coaching Staff of the Year Honors.

“At the beginning of the season we made small mistakes, but we worked real hard,” Oldman said. This is the closest King’s Men’s Soccer has come to going to USCAA Division 2 Nationals.

Since Harman starting working for King’s, he says going to Nationals, and winning, has always been a goal. He is confident this is feasible, if not this year, in the near future.

On Saturday, the team suffered a loss that would have secured them a place to move forward to Nationals. However, the team is hopeful they will remain in the top five teams to move on.

To stay updated on the Men’s Soccer Team and all the other sports check out: tkc.prestosports.com/landing/index.