Sports Information Director
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Holy Cross men's soccer team capped off an incredible ride during the 2013 season where numerous program records and accolades were accomplished. After training camp, preseason in Alabama, the grind of the CCAC regular season and playoffs, the Saints concluded 2013 with a program-best 14-7 record and a spot in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) Tournament Finals. This story will walk you through the process from training camp up through the conference championship game.
The 2013 Saints entered training camp in August with high hopes following a successful 2012 campaign where they won nine games and made their first appearance in the CCAC postseason. Second year head coach Omar Gallo brought in a talented recruiting class of 10 players who joined an experienced group with high expectations.
"We informed the guys that we had more to prove from our 2012 season," stated Gallo. "The guys came into camp ready to go and were committed to surpassing all the records that were set in the previous season."
A Bonding Experience
With the regular season just around the corner, the coaching staff did something a little different than in the past and took a trip to Alabama for preseason.
"We took the team to Alabama, where Nationals is being held, for a team bonding experience," Gallo continued. "The trip has had a major impact on the success we had this season. We scrimmaged against the University of Mobile, who was ranked No. 1 in preseason, and lost 5-0. This was a great experience because it allowed us to see what it would take to get to the top of the NAIA. The trip was also a chance for us to bond as a team. The coaching staff and players got to learn plenty of things about one another and it formed a relationship that was as close to a family as you could get."
Kicking Things Off
Upon returning from the Alabama trip, the team knew that it was time to put their preseason work to test. The Saints opened up the regular season at home where they've had tremendous success over the past two seasons. Three goals from three different players, paired with strong goalkeeping from a freshman making his first career start, got the Saints off to a 1-0 start for the second consecutive year. The Saints split a pair of games in the Mount Vernon Nazarene tournament before heading to Huntington (Ind.) for a big 4-2 road victory. A 3-0 win over Moody Bible extended the Saints winning-streak to three games before their first regular season showdown with Bethel College at the Kroc Center.
Trailing 2-0 in the second half, the Saints rallied back with two unanswered goals to tie the game in the 81st minute. A late goal from the Pilots, however, was the deciding factor as the Pilots edged out the Saints 3-2. The Saints were now onto conference play with a 4-2 record.
The Grind of the CCAC
"Heading into conference, our goal was to win the league outright and win the conference title," Gallo continued. "We faced plenty of adversity throughout the season but I am proud of how our guys responded. The biggest change this year was our team discipline. We were more focused on the result rather than other teams and officials which led to our success."
After going 6-3-2 in conference play last year, the Saints knew a strong start was necessary to accomplish their goals in the 2013 season. With several difficult teams in the conference, the Saints had a tough draw with Olivet Nazarene, the 2012 tournament champions, and Saint Xavier to open the CCAC season. Despite the difficult draw to open the conference season, the Saints responded with back-to-back CCAC wins to sit atop the league in first place with a 2-0 league record.
Following the early success, the Saints hit a bit of a rough patch; specifically on the road. The Saints headed to Calumet St. Joseph, riding the momentum of two wins, but fell to the Crimson Wave 4-0 on the road. They then capped off their two-game road trip with a 2-1 overtime loss to Cardinal Stritch to drop them to 2-2 in the league. The Saints knew that if they wanted to make their preseason goals a reality that they'd need to find a way to win on the road.
The Strong Finish
Over the final seven conference games the Saints went 5-2 overall and 2-2 on the road to finish the regular season with a program-best seven CCAC wins. In addition, the team finished the regular season with 12 wins; another program-best.
Perfect at Home
With eight home games during the regular season, the Saints accomplished something that no other team in the conference had been able to achieve: going unbeaten at home. The Saints won all eight games they played at Ganger Field during the season, outscoring their opponents 22-8 in the process. They capped off their historic 8-0 home record on November 2 with a 6-2 victory over Purdue Calumet on senior day. In the game, Farkhod Kurbonov (Dushanbe, Tajikistan) had a career-day with three goals to give him his first career hat trick.
On to the Postseason
For the second consecutive season, head coach Omar Gallo and the Saints reached the CCAC postseason. The Saints finished the regular season in fifth place in the conference and were heading to Roosevelt University for a round one matchup.
An intense round one matchup had the game scoreless before senior captain Niko Jelicic (Sucuraj, Croatia) converted a penalty kick to put the Saints up 1-0 in the second half. Jelicic continued his impressive game with a game-saving defensive play to keep the Saints on top. As the clock wound down, the Saints reached a program-milestone with their first ever conference playoff victory. With the win, the Saints would now head to Milwaukee, Wis. to take on the regular season champions and No. 1 seeded Cardinal Stritch Wolves.
The Saints were now two wins away from achieving the ultimate goal of winning the conference championship. Facing the No. 1 seed in their backyard would be no simple task, but the Saints were ready for the challenge.
The semifinal matchup couldn't have started any better for the Saints as junior Michael Maiorano (Whitby, Ontario, Canada) scored the game's first goal in the first 40 seconds of the match. Stritch answered with a tying goal late in the first half as the game headed to the break a 1-1 tie.
An early second half goal from Stritch gave the Wolves their first lead of the night before Austin Haire (Porter, Ind.) tied the game shortly after. Garbhan Grant (Letterkenny, Ireland) broke the tie and Alfredo Molestina (Guayaquil, Ecuador) added an insurance goal as the Saints upset the No. 1 seeded Wolves and advanced to the CCAC championship.
One Final Match
The Saints entered the CCAC finals with high hopes of earning the programs first NAIA tournament appearance. After tying the game in the second half, the Tigers netted the game-winning goal in the 74th minute. The Saints season ended in heart break, but the accomplishments the team achieved will be remembered forever.
"Though we did not win the championship, I'm extremely proud of what our guys accomplished," continued Gallo. "We have to take the positives out of this year and having a small school like us finishing runner-up is extremely positive for our program. In 2012 we entered our postseason as a young program and were not ready for the challenge. We've continued to make positive strides in the right direction for our program."
Over the course of the 2013 season, Garbhan Grant and Iain McTurk (Copenhagen, Denmark) were recognized by the conference as players of the week on two occasions each. Both Grant and McTurk became the first two-time winners in the history of the Holy Cross men's soccer program.
At the conclusion of the playoffs, four Saints were honored for all-conference recognition. Seniors Niko Jelicic and Garbhan Grant were named First Team All-CCAC and TJ Hendzel (Lisle, Ill.) and Iain McTurk were both named Second Team All-CCAC. In addition, goalkeeper Iain McTurk was named Freshman of the Year in the conference.
"To have four players receive all-conference awards is truly incredible," continued Gallo. "It shows how far this team has come of the past few seasons. To think we have won 23 games, made consecutive playoff appearances and finished runner-up in the conference in a two-year span is a great accomplishment.
Seniors Leaving Their Mark
"I wanted to personally thank my four seniors for their hard work, dedication and commitment to this program. They've taken this program to new heights and will forever be remembered as the foundation for our program. This senior class has a special place in my heart as it's my first senior class graduating. As a coach you want to win games and championships, but more importantly, you want to develop young men. You want to help shape young boys into men and prepare them for life after soccer. Being able to watch them walk down the aisle and receive their diplomas in May will be more rewarding than winning a championship. I thank them for allowing me to begin my coaching career with such a great group of guys. We have faced adversity together, accomplished measures together that most thought wasn't possible and most importantly a relationship that will last forever. Thank you seniors as I wish you luck in wherever life takes you next. I know you will be successful after Holy Cross."
Garbhan Grant closed out his Holy Cross career as the all-time leader in goals (18), assists (21), points (57), games played (72), games started (70) and game-winning goals (7).
Onward to 2014
"Although we are losing some key players, I am confident that the guys returning will continue to push the program in the right direction," Gallo said. "I know the team will be hungry to get back to the final. With the team we have returning I know their expectations will be similar if not higher.
As a coaching staff, there has been no break; recruiting has begun and we are looking to bring in some of the top student-athletes around the country."
A Final Thank You from Coach Gallo
"I would like to say a special thank you to the entire Holy Cross community for supporting our program this season. I would also like to say a special thank you to my assistants for taking time away from their families and other jobs. Most importantly, I would like to say thank you to my wife and kids. No matter what sport you're coaching, you can never be successful without the support of your family. I'm proud to say I have a wife and children that allow me to pursue my coaching career and buy into the mission at Holy Cross."
Thank you to the Holy Cross community and our fans around the globe. The 2013 season is one that will be remembered for many years to come. Until next fall, enjoy the offseason and be sure to stay tuned to our site for all updates regarding Holy Cross athletics.
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