SWEET 16. ELITE 8. TOP 5 FINAL RANKING. DRAWING ON THE STRENGTH OF A STORIED PAST, MEN’S SOCCER ELEVATES ITS GAME ON AND OFF THE FIELD.
On a cold November night in Greensboro, two players who weren’t used to the spotlight stepped up and helped advance the Spartans to the next round of the NCAA tournament.
After two overtime periods, a penalty kick shootout would determine the winner. Isaac Briner, who had not played all season, made a save. Freshman Maddox Mallery delivered a clutch kick. UNCG wins!
A crowd of alumni, students, and families roared. Last fall, after more than a decade out of the national spotlight, Men’s Soccer achieved its first Elite 8 finish as a Division I team.
For many alumni and fans, the march through the NCAA reignited memories of the program’s history. Men’s Soccer first earned recognition in the 1980s, when the Spartans won five Division III National Championships under coaches Mike Berticelli (1980-83) and Michael Parker (1984-2009).
MY FAVORITE MOMENT WAS WINNING THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP IN 1985. WUAG HAD TRAVELED TO SAINT LOUIS TO BROADCAST THE GAME.—STEVE HARRISON ’89
“Back in the day, the thing to do in Greensboro was go pick your kids up from school and bring them to the game. It was routine in the 1980s to have 1,500-2,000 people at the game sitting on the hill by the tennis courts watching us,” recalls Steve Harrison ’89.
Many great alumni players helped build UNCG’s legacy of excellence, including George Hoyle ’90, Andrew Mehalko ’87, Randi Patterson ’10, and Eddie Radwanski ’97.
This year’s excitement echoes those championship moments.
“I was chasing the all-time scoring record for a season. I ended up having two goals and the second goal broke the record,” says Jason Haupt ’91. “I jumped about three rows deep because I saw some of our ex-players. Someone grabbed me by the back of my shirt to try and drag me out of the crowd!”
Harrison’s favorite memory? “Winning the national championship in 1985 out in Saint Louis. This was before cell phones. This was before the internet. People were listening to the campus radio station. WUAG had traveled to Saint Louis to broadcast the game.”
After tasting national success in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, Spartan Men’s Soccer vanished from the NCAA tournament, as some of its former prestige had dulled.
Now, with a new coach and a fresh attitude, the Spartans are on the rise. Fans and alumni are energized.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to see UNCG thrive like it did this season,” says Jeff Lochrie ’04.
“The drama within the tournament, the run that they made, the penalty kick shootouts – even watching it on TV, you could feel the environment at the UNCG Soccer Stadium was electric,” says Alejandro Moreno ’01.
In this new phase of Spartan history, alumni are connecting with current players, and the community is rallying.
WHEN YOU’RE PART OF A TEAM, YOU CAN DRAW A LOT OF EXPERIENCE FROM THOSE MOMENTS. IT’S AN INVALUABLE ASSET THAT STUDENT-ATHLETES CAN TAKE AWAY.—JASON HAUPT ’91
Coach Chris Rich, who took over in 2019, communicates with more than 100 alumni players through WhatsApp. Many former Spartan leaders now visit the team, inspiring them to reach an even higher level.
“Winning breeds winning” is a phrase Lochrie remembers hearing from Darren Powell ’94. “I think if you just work hard and build off of that, you get a winning mentality,” Lochrie says.
What’s more, UNCG Athletics produces students who succeed on and off the field. They are bound by common goals and values.
“As an athlete, when you’re finished training, you’re not just scattering in different directions. We would just go to the ‘caf’ and talk for what seemed to be hours, just spending time together,” Moreno recalls. “And, of course, the most important thing about my college experience is the fact that I met my wife at UNCG.”
Men’s Soccer had a 3.22 GPA in Fall 2022, with 74% of players achieving Athletic Director’s Honor Roll by earning a GPA higher than 3.0. Two players earned a perfect 4.0.
Academic success is the standard across UNCG Athletics, Director of Athletics Brian Mackin notes. More than 90% of University teams have GPAs above 3.0. Across all the programs, 32 student-athletes achieved a 4.0 GPA in Fall 2022.
With a Fall 2022 team GPA of 3.22, today’s Men’s Soccer players are poised to impact their communities positively no matter which career paths they choose.
“When you’re part of a team, you can draw a lot of experience from those moments,” says Haupt. “It’s an invaluable asset that student-athletes can take away.”
“We strive for excellence in all aspects,” says Coach Rich. “How we treat people, how we study, and how we perform on the field. It’s all connected.”
“YOU WILL have to be an example, even when you don’t want to be,” explains Marco Milanese ’22. “Being a captain means you’re going to have to expose yourself.” But being a leader is a role that feels natural for Milanese, who comes from Isenia, Italy, near Naples. Read More…
HE GOT THE CALL that most college athletes would trade anything to receive: He’d been drafted by a pro team. “Man, if I can talk about that moment for a second! Playing professionally was a dream of mine since I was a kid,” recalls Ethan Conley ’24. Read More…
ABOUT HALF OF UNCG MEN’S SOCCER PLAYERS arrive from nations like France, Germany, Ghana, Italy, South Africa, and Spain.
“It’s a long process to get them here,” says Coach Chris Rich. “But it’s obviously a big reward when you get a great player.”
Alejandro Moreno ’01 was one of these great international players recruited to UNCG in the 1990s. After a successful professional career, he is an analyst for ESPN sports.
“The influx of international players has not only been important for UNCG, it’s really a major talking point in college soccer in general,” Moreno observes.
To recruit internationally Rich needs contacts overseas, video conversations with players, and a trip to see the player in action. This makes for a locker room of different backgrounds, life experiences, and languages.
If you want to come to this program, you commit to excellence in all aspects.–Coach Chris Rich
What brings them together? A special Spartan culture.
“If you find like-minded people who are bonded for the right reason and you have a good foundation and you have good leadership, it can work out very well,” says Rich. “Winning also helps, I promise you,” he adds, laughing.
Former team captain Marco Milanese ’22, who was recruited from Italy, agrees. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you do the right things, then you fit in.”
Soccer is an international game, but, on the field, UNCG players represent a culture that is specifically Spartan. “You can’t be a great soccer player unless you’re committed academically. You can’t be committed academically unless you are committed socially,” says Rich. “If you want to come to this program, you commit to excellence in all aspects.”
BY MERCER BUFTER ’11 MA • PHOTOGRAPHY BY CARLOS MORALES AND SEAN NORONA ’12