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Eagles Soccer Wins Nationals 2023

2023 Eagles National Soccer Champions

On November 19, Sunday night, Pensacola Christian College students stood ready to welcome back their Eagles soccer team from the NCCAA DII National Championship in Kissimmee, Florida. With loud, continuous cheers and thunder sticks in hand, Eagles fans excitedly rallied around the team and the coaches as they disembarked from the team’s bus. The champions have returned.

Eagles National Champion Men's Soccer Return to Campus
Becoming the Champions

This year’s 2–1 win against the Boyce College Bulldogs was the third time the Eagles soccer team claimed the championship title, past wins occurring in 2017 and 2019. The game was a fight for the win, with two great goals from Lourenço Gonçalves (Jr., Portugal) and an Eagles own goal that put Boyce on the scoreboard.

“Every guy on the bench was encouraging those on the field.”

The second half became tough with both teams itching to score again. “We were up by one goal, and we knew that [the Bulldogs] were going to try and equalize the game no matter what,” said Matias Lee (Jr., Argentina). “As [our] legs got tired and minds got slower, every guy on the field dug deep to start running on a different fuel that fires up when you play with heart. Every guy on the bench was encouraging those on the field, and there was just a beautiful environment in which we were defending that which we worked so hard for.”

Soon, that final whistle rang out across the field and the Eagles claimed the title as the 2023 Men’s Soccer National Champions. “We felt fulfilled and blessed,” said goalkeeper Denver Hader (Sr., VA) about the win. “Immediately following the game, our team captain, Matias Lee, gathered us around and we thanked God for blessing us for all of our hard work this season.”

For Reid Rhodes (So., PA), the win accomplished a goal he wanted to achieve since before attending PCC. “I have two older brothers who played for this program and were on the National Championship team in 2019,” he explained. “I saw what it meant to them and have ever since wanted to do the same thing. I have wanted to do this since I was a kid. For it to finally be a reality has been a dream come true.”

Growing as a Team
Eagles Men's Soccer team

Over the last few years, the Eagles soccer team has suffered multiple postseason disappointments. Regardless, Caleb Welch (Jr., IN) has seen the team grow together and push harder each passing year. “The team has grown so much this season,” he shared. “It’s easy to be on a team that experiences regular success, and this one did. But when the losses come and the team doesn’t play to its full potential, the true character of a squad is shown. Through every loss, tie, and bad practice, this team committed to each other to improve and build upon both the negative and the positive, which helped bring us together.”

The Eagles team often uses a theme and a verse to encourage each other and stay focused on what really matters. This year was no different, using the theme “The Higher, the Fewer” from Isaiah 40:31. “We use this verse as motivation to help us use the ups and downs that we experience throughout each season [to] make us stronger as individuals and as a team,” explained Head Coach Joe Liwosz, who leads the Eagles soccer team. “We have a great group of leaders that pushed the team to be positive and encouraging. It was also a blessing to see the leadership within our team bring the team together after big wins this season to give the thanks and glory to God.”

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”—Isaiah 40:31

To Niwe Mugeni (Sr., OH), the team seemed to bond more like brothers than teammates. “We argued and got annoyed with each other, but as the season progressed, we were more united,” he explained. “We learned to trust each other and, like Coach said all season, ‘to play for each other.’ We learned how to play off each other’s strengths and support each other’s weaknesses.”

Receiving Recognition

The season did come with its ups and downs, but Coach Liwosz saw his athletes succeed in big ways. “I think that our biggest team success this season during the regular season was our match against Spring Hill College,” he shared. “We were missing about three or four of our big starting players, and we needed the entire team to step up. Every person on our bench played. Everyone battled it out, and we ended up with a tie against a solid NCAA DII program with every person on the team contributing.”

“[Another] one of our biggest successes in postseason was our victory against Bob Jones University,” Coach Liwosz continued. “We knew it was going to be one of our biggest trials in the postseason, and the team came together and worked hard. They fought for 90 minutes to earn the regional title and a spot at the National Tournament.”

While participating in Nationals, many Eagles soccer student athletes were recognized for their performance in the tournament and received 2023 DII Men’s Soccer Awards:  

Eagles National Champion Men's Soccer Awards

Now that the season has ended, a sense of relief, joy, and sadness is shared among the team—sadness because the season came to an end. But the unifying experience of being on this soccer team together will be remembered by these students for years to come. “Competing in the Regional and National championships, personally, was a huge blessing,” said Matias. “Being able to fully enjoy the health and talent God has given me [and] representing PCC with a group of great young athletes has been a highlight of my college years. Through the ups and downs, God has placed amazing coaches and teammates for me to rely on and learn from.”