It was 1998, and the Reinhardt College men’s soccer team was facing State Fair College from State Fair, Missouri. Tired and bruised from a game the day before, the Reinhardt team was still pumped because this wasn’t just any game—it was the National Championship game of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
“From day one of the season, our team’s focus was completely on winning the district championship,” explained Benji Walton ’01, a member of the 1998 men’s soccer team and now the head women’s soccer coach at Birmingham Southern College. “Going to the national championships wasn’t even on our radar, so when we got to that point, it was a surreal experience.”
Best Finish in Recent Reinhardt Athletic History
The national championship game was bittersweet for the Reinhardt team. It was a scoreless battle until late in the first half when a State Fair midfielder kicked a shot that hit the post and then dropped in front of a wide open forward who buried the go ahead goal. Reinhardt held strong defensively to control the rest of the game, but the team was unable to score a goal. The men’s soccer team’s final record was 21 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie, with a ranking of second in the nation—the best finish of any athletic team in recent Reinhardt College history.
“Although we didn’t win the title, we earned a lot of respect among our peers,” Walton said. “The whole campus was genuinely fired up about our accomplishments as a team, and many were there to cheer us on when we arrived at the airport from the national championships. It was an experience I will never forget.”
Team Reunites on October 18, 2008
The 1998 team members have kept in touch after graduation, but now, ten years later, they reunited at Reinhardt on October 18, 2008 to remember that victorious season and honor the coach that instilled in them the value of teamwork.
“From the beginning, I encouraged the team to believe in the idea that they are great players, but they will only do well if they work together as a team,” said Lars Andersson, Reinhardt men’s soccer coach from 1993-98, now the head women’s soccer coach at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. “That was the recipe for success and is what helped us reach our goal of making it to the national championship game.
"We All Share a True Friendship."
“I have very strong ties to the 1998 team, and I enjoyed playing a pick-up game and reminiscing about our success that season. Back then I had a coach-player relationship with each player, but now I can say that we all share a true friendship.”
Team members are (bottom row, l-r): Brandon Wilson, Carsten Krogh, Carl Fleming, Walton, John Shepard and Joe Aaron; (top row, l-r) Travis Howick, Jesper Moeller, Brad Sullivan, Nate Pryor, Samir Naim, Richard Marshburn, Roger Joseph and Andersson.
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