A couple months ago, the mood on the Fairfield University men’s soccer bus was as somber as the September air. The team had just lost to Stony Brook 4-1, which kept their winless streak unfortunately intact. Head Coach Carl Rees stood up, looked at the dejected bunch and said, “We have the potential to go 13-0.” At that time, they were 0-4. Now they’re MAAC Champions.
“I should’ve said 18-0,” the fortuneteller Rees said. The Stags won their fourth championship and the first one since 2008 as they defeated the Manhattan Jaspers 3-1 on Monday.
“It’s a very gratifying feeling. I’m just really pleased for the guys to be able to experience something like this,” said Rees.
And it was the collective group of these lads that allowed Rees’ vision to come true. All season long, he has stressed the intangibles and character of the team and how it was his focus when building what would turn into a championship squad.
“Integrity, self-knowledge, courage, ambitious those are the words that come to my mind,” said Rees when trying to define the character of the team.
For others, they aren’t able to pinpoint the exact terms.
“It’s hard to even put it into words,” said Jack Burridge. The graduate student who collected a hat trick in the championship game went on to say, “They’re a great bunch of lads from starters to the lads who come off the bench….Everyone who came on did a job even the freshmen and that just shows how driven and how much of a squad we have.”
And that is what has really defined this rare collection of players ranging from a few miles down the road, to overseas in England, and across the world to New Zealand. All the unique personalities of the 22 players have meshed and have formed an unbreakable bond.
“At the start of every season we try and create and develop an organism that is good. On and off the field, in the classroom out socially, and when it comes together and if I can have a part in shaping that, it’s very gratifying,” said Rees.
Even though the team has proven to be unbeatable as a group, there has been the occasional varied role of hero. Jack Burridge was the one who stepped up to this position, scoring all of the team’s goals in the finals (just as he did in their last championship in 2008).
“It must be something in the water,” he joked. “It’s things you dream about. If someone had told me before the game that would have been the scenario at the end of the game I probably would have laughed.”
For the first time since 2008, the Stags had the benefit of Burridge in the lineup when it came to tournament time. The forward was forced to sit out the last two years due to multiple injuries. Coach Rees knows how important the play and leadership of Burridge have been all season long.
“He is crucial,” Rees said. “He’s vital to the team’s success not only in his goal but his character, his leadership…He has this inherent love of the game and it comes out in his communication.”
After that 0-4 start, the Stags are now ranked 29th in the country and are awaiting their opponent in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Rees says that the team is looking to take it one step at a time as they have done all season long. But he was quick to say that the squad has learned valuable lessons from the early days of the season, lessons they will not forget.
And maybe that isn’t the only thing that is unforgettable about the 2011 Stags. Jack Burridge, who is currently in his last season at Fairfield, recognizes how important the personalities of the players are.
“Even people who have no idea who we are or where we come from – everyone is always like ‘you’re a credit to the University, congratulations’,” he said.
Carl Rees, who has seen player after player graduate and leave Fairfield in his 16 seasons as the head coach of the Stags, seems to be personally affected by this particular group of lads “on a personal level. It’s a true reflection of what I would want my team to be…. Myself to be.”