The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

‘Different shoes’: Men’s soccer’s journey to the Final Four

The seniors leave behind a legacy of the most national wins for an individual class in program history
%28Left+to+right%29+Dmitri+Tulloch%2C+%E2%80%9827%2C+and+Weyimi+Agbeyegbe%2C+%E2%80%9825%2C+show+excitement+for+their+team+heading+into+the+NCAA+Division+III+men%E2%80%99s+soccer+Final+Four.+Photo+courtesy+of+Generals+Athletics
(Left to right) Dmitri Tulloch, ‘27, and Weyimi Agbeyegbe, ‘25, show excitement for their team heading into the NCAA Division III men’s soccer Final Four. Photo courtesy of Generals Athletics

A “roller coaster” is how W&L men’s soccer’s senior captain Evan DiPaula described their 2023 season. So it was only fitting that the final chapter of their story was no different.

On Dec. 1, the team traveled down to Salem, Va. to compete in the NCAA Division III Final Four against Amherst College. The Generals conceded two goals in the first 46 minutes of the match having only allowed one goal in their previous four tournament games.

The team battled back with goals scored in the 66th and 87th minute by Willy Hall, ’26,  and Will Luik, ’25,  to knot the game at two goals a piece. The game proceeded to overtime where the Generals dominated, outshooting Amherst 7-0. But when it came down to penalty kicks the team was unable to find the back of the net, falling two to zero.

“Sometimes you need a little bit of luck to go your way, and it didn’t go our way,” said assistant coach Jon Freeman. “I’m very proud of what they accomplished and am just sad it had to end.”

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A rocky start

The team entered the season having previously graduated 12 seniors, three of whom were all-American midfielders.

“A lot of people thought this was a rebuilding year for us,” said senior first-team all-conference midfielder Grant McCarty.

In September, many of those people seemed to be right. The team had a slow start losing one and tying two of their first three games all without scoring a single goal.

“We had to fill shoes, and I don’t know if we completely filled those shoes,” DiPaula said. “But we had different shoes.”

The team began to shift from an offensive powerhouse seen in the 2021 and 2022 seasons to a defensive stalwart. The team, on average, allowed opponents to score under a goal a game.

“We were a grittier team that really bought into playing team defense,” DiPaula said. “I think we played some of the best defense this program’s ever seen.”

Freeman echoed the same sentiment.

“They had to roll up their sleeves and find a way, and they did.” said Freeman.

The offense started to pick up for the Generals too. The team captured the no. 1 seed in the conference heading into the postseason. The team gained momentum through conference play in October with a record of 6-1-1.

After two comfortable wins, the Generals faced a familiar opponent in the Lynchburg Hornets who they had beaten 4-0 just 11 days prior. But the generals fell late to their rival, conceding a goal in the 76th minute and once again in the 82nd minute while pressing to tie the score.

“It hurt to not win the ODAC, but that wasn’t our ultimate goal for the team,” DiPaula said. “It’s nice to win a trophy and be a champion of something, but our main focus is that NCAA tournament.”

Leaving a legacy

The class of 2024 seniors are have the most wins on the national stage in the program’s history. During their three normally scheduled seasons the team advanced to the Final Four twice and the Sweet Sixteen once. They also won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship in 2022.

“If you asked them did they accomplish everything they wanted, they’d probably say no,” Freeman said.  “They had the potential to win a national championship. It just didn’t come to fruition.”

The Generals fell during their 2021 Final Four run in overtime. At that time, no W&L men’s soccer team had ever made it to the Final Four.

“Making the Final Four is now the new normal in this program,” DiPaula said. “That’s now the standard.”

The class of 2024 accomplished all of this even after not playing a normal freshman season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Practices had distancing restrictions, and the team was only able to play an abbreviated conference schedule. Both DiPaula and McCarty said the experiences only helped the class grow close as they all lived on the same hall together unlike other years where teammates are spaced out in the dorms.

“I think as a whole our class is the closest I’ve seen in my four years on the soccer team,” said McCarty. “Younger guys get to see how much this means to us. It’s doing something we love with a bunch of our best friends.”

DiPaula and McCarty hope the success will continue.

“Now people know that if [the Generals] are in the tournament, they’re going to be a threat,” said DiPaula.

“I think it’s only up from here,” said McCarty.

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  • J

    JoAnn DiPaulaDec 22, 2023 at 11:36 am

    Great insight and well spoken! The work ethic and “team” building lessons are gifts every player will carry forward to create lifelong success. Indeed, you filled those “new shoes” very well. Congratulations to all with special shout out to the Seniors and Captain DiPaula! Go Generals ?⚽️?

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  • D

    Dr. JOHN P SloanDec 12, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    It’s a great winning attitude. Keep it up. Go generals

    Reply