Photo Courtesy of Hannah Robb/St. Olaf Athletics
The St. Olaf Men’s Soccer Team clinched its inaugural national championship on Dec. 3 — an accomplishment steeped in time, dedication, determination, grit, and heart. While collectively preparing for such a significant feat demanded teamwork, individually, each member of the team had their unique rituals and methods to gear up for every game. To uncover these fascinating details and anecdotes about the season, I spoke with several players and staff, unearthing some intriguing facts.
Surprisingly, the hours preceding the championship game were marked by a calmness among the Oles. According to Zac Harvey-Latham ’24, the overall vibe of the locker room was the most relaxed he saw everyone all season. “We all just felt so comfortable in each other’s company ahead of the biggest game of our lives,” Harvey-Latham said.
Reflecting on the season, standout moments resonated with various team members. Clemente Arcuch Puig ’24 cherished the victory against the University of Chicago, where they triumphed 2-1 on UChicago’s home turf — a significant triumph for the Oles, marking their first-ever win against them and securing a spot in the Final Four.
Assistant Coach Matthew Gibbons laughed and reminisced about his early days on the job when some team members shared stories about how much they disliked him as a player. Gibbons is a former two-time all-American player on the Gustavus soccer team, a conference rival of St. Olaf.
Liam Vance ’24 also explained how whenever they would ask athletic trainer Tyler Keith “How’s it going Tyler?” Keith would always answer, “I’m just trying to win a championship.” Keith’s dedication was praised by many Oles as instrumental in their journey to success. Keith also played Reggaeton music in the athletic training facilities for every pregame and always had questions of the day that players enjoyed answering. Keith’s favorite moments included Sunday treatments, or the late night treatments during the national tournament.
Delving into superstitions, the team had its share. Roommates Leo Dixon ’24, Yohana Lasuba ’26, and Vance made it a ritual to watch South Park together in their hotel room the night before away games. Vance also carried a shark Squishmallow to every away game except the Ohio trip, where its absence coincided with the team’s losses. Leading up to the championship game, Vance ran into a problem. How was he supposed to travel on a plane with such a big Squishmallow? Thinking on his feet, he decided to cut a piece of fabric off of the shark, and he took that with him to Virginia. Vance and “Sharkie” would then go on to win the championship title.
Traditionally, the team engaged in a pre-game drill called “baseball,” a thrilling shooting game between two teams. One team would form a line and shoot one by one on the goalkeepers while the other team stood staggered behind the net. If a player were to shoot the ball too high and miss the net, a player on the opposing team could catch it, making them switch sides. The winning team would end with the most goals scored. Harvey-Latham explained how after their Ohio trip they never played it again, resulting in a 22-game unbeaten streak.
Game days also witnessed unique superstitions. Ian Elliot ’24 avoided playing “Among Us” on game days, while Gibbons adhered to standing with his right foot on the sideline during the national anthem. Arcuch Puig meticulously followed a routine of donning his gear in a specific sequence, putting on his shin guards and socks left then right, and his cleats in reverse order, right then left. Casey McCloskey ’24 always made sure to drink electrolytes the day before a game and also two hours before a game, fueling him to score multiple game winning goals in the NCAA tournament.
Post-championship victory, an emotional moment transpired in the locker room when athletic trainer Keith halted everyone to express his overwhelming joy, “All I’ve wanted to do is win a championship title, and we just won a championship title!” The locker room went crazy, and the Oles brought the trophy back to Northfield.