Thomas University senior classes set the standard for their current soccer success.
The women’s team is ranked No. 22 in the NAIA and won its first Sun Conference postseason game, defeating Webber International 5-1. In October, it reeled off a school-record seven straight wins.
The Night Hawks are ranked No. 23 nationally and won Thomas University’s first Sun Conference championship, defeating Savannah College of Arts and Design) 6-2. They set a school record with a 12-game unbeaten streak and an eight-game winning skein.
The conference championship qualified TU’s men’s team for the NAIA national tourney at Auburn-Montgomery University.
In August 2010, many freshman were enrolling for their first semester at TU. However, two groups of student-athletes from around the world were asked to join the ranks of two soccer teams that were looking to take another step in the process of being recognized among the top NAIA teams in the country.
Although they play for separate teams, the men’s and women’s soccer senior classes were brought in for the same reasons. Four years later, both programs have compiled four straight postseason appearances while recording three straight double-digit win tota;s. Both stand in a firm position among the top teams in the Sun Conference and the NAIA Top 25.
“The people we recruited were great,” said TU senior women’s soccer player Hannah Claesson. “We wanted to be successful together as a TU soccer family. All of us have developed into starters and we have worked hard to fulfill our role in helping the program to continue to set a higher standard for the future.”
The women faced a little extra adversity along the way, with the seniors having had three coaches over the last four years.
“Starting over three different times is not easy,” said first-year TU head women’s coach Julie Orlowski. “Their leadership speaks for itself, having not used coaching changes as an excuse of why they could not be successful. They fulfilled their objective of leading the program toward a new standard.”
TU senior men’s player Joe McDowell has witnessed the changes.
“Our quality of players has risen,” he said. “When you have competition among your team, it forces you to compete at a higher standard for your position. This has helped to create a stronger work ethic.
“Last year, we opened our new strength and conditioning facility, and this makes us want to work even harder.”
The excellence extends to the classroom. Over the last three years, both teams have been recognized by the NAIA and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) by receiving the prestigious Scholar Team award, which is presented to teams with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.
“My staff and I, four years ago, knew the important role that the 2010 freshman class needed to play for both programs,” said TU men’s soccer coach Ricky Zambrano, whose last season as head coach for both programs was in 2010. “We wanted a recruiting class that was committed to TU and its long-term success. I think this class definitely did it.”