By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
There is exceeding expectations, and then there is the plight of the Halliday brothers and the Tufts University men’s soccer program.
“I was not expecting that when I committed to Tufts we would win two national championships,” admitted Kevin Halliday, a junior for the Jumbos. “I was hoping to make the tournament all four years and to win some games and help get the program heading in the right direction. I had no idea we could do this.”
This, is winning a second national championship in three years. The Jumbos secured their second NCAA Division 3 national title with a 1-0 overtime win over Calvin last Saturday in Salem, Va. The winning goal came when Tyler Kulcser converted a corner kick from Kevin Halliday early in the second overtime period for the only goal of the game.
“It was absolutely crazy to come full circle after doing it sophomore year with the other Princeton guys, Maxime (Hoppenot) and Rui (Pinhiero), and then again as a senior,” said Zach Halliday, who has started all but one game for the Jumbos over the last three seasons. “This was a totally different experience. I never realized the emotions and mental pressure that Maxime and the other seniors were under on that team.
“It’s different when you have a lot of the team and the underclassmen looking at you. When I was a sophomore I was focused on my game. Now, as a senior, me and my co-captain, Nate (Najumder), had things we had to deal with that I never realized I would need to be doing.”
Zach Halliday will graduate in May having been a part of the greatest run of success in Tufts soccer history. The team has qualified for the NCAA tournament three straight seasons. In 2014, the Jumbos won six straight games on the road to win the NCAA title. Last year they reached the Sweet Sixteen before falling by a goal to Kenyon. This year, they added another national championships.
“I remember after we beat Messiah in the Elite Eight two years ago thinking, why not us?,” Kevin said. “The more teams we beat we realized the other guys were not invincible. They were just other guys playing soccer just like us. This year I think the experience of having done it before helped give us confidence that we could do it again.
“I think experience really helped. Especially when you get late in a game and you’re in double overtime in the national championship game. That experience of having been there makes a difference.”
Tufts road to the title was not an easy one. After opening with a 2-0 win over Springfield, the Jumbos posted consecutive 1-0 wins over Rowan, UMass-Boston and Kenyon, the latter in double overtime and avenging last year’s Sweet 16 loss. They topped St. Thomas, 2-1, in the semifinals before the overtime win in the final.
“Two years ago was way different,” Zach said. “None of our games went into overtime or penalty kicks. This year we had two double overtime games. It was a lot more stressful than the run we had two years ago. Calvin was an extremely talented team and had midfielders that were some of the best I had played against in my career. It was a big challenge. But something that has helped us is our grit and determination and collective effort.”
It certainly helps that the Halliday brother, who are Cranbury residents, came from high school programs where they were used to playing on the big stage in both soccer and lacrosse.
“Me and Zach like to joke we’re winning again,” Kevin said. “Not to sound too cocky, but I think it does help that in high school soccer and lacrosse we were always playing in big games and being in tight, big-time games helps with all the of the experience. It helps you when you go through those big moments.
“The first time we won Zach played a huge role and I came off bench after missing most of the season. But now, being upperclassmen, we’re not just playing a role on the field but off as well. We have an impact on how the team runs. We help with all the little things that go into being a part of a team that wins a national championship.”
Next year, Zach won’t be on the field as a player trying to help Tufts win a third title. But he will be around and lending his support to the program.
“I have a job in Boston with Fidelity next year,” Zach said. “I will no longer be a soccer player, which will be tough to swallow. It will be a weird transition from a sport that has dominated my life to being a fan and watch my brother a little bit. Kevin said a few weeks ago he thinks one day I will get back into soccer because I love it so much.
“Our parents have been awesome getting up to I think every single home game. One of the perks being in Boston is I will being able to be at the games with them next year.”
Kevin would like to add a third national title, even if it means getting there without his older brother. But for now he’s just savoring the school’s second national championship.
“That’s the goal,” Kevin said. “I was joking with Coach (Chip) Castro, who coaches lacrosse at Princeton High, and he had three Division 3 national championships when he was playing lacrosse for Hobart. I was joking with him in a group message with Zach that one more and I would be tied with him.
“It is really good for the program to win one national championship. The first time you win the tournament people might say it is a fluke or just an awesome year or maybe we were one-hit wonders. But we got back the next year and lost a tight Sweet 16 game. And then to win two years later with half the team gone cements the program as one to be reckoned with. Coach (Josh) Shapiro is building a program with great players who are also great people.”
The Halliday brothers have been two of those great people. And they’ll leave quite a legacy with the program.
“It has been awesome and I have been so lucky to play with Kevin these last three years,” Zach said. “We played soccer and lacrosse together in high school and it has been awesome playing with him again. It was exciting to get text messages from our old teammates and coaches and teachers and parents. It is nice to make those people proud.”
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor