After two consecutive berths to the Club Soccer National Tournament, the Rice Men’s Club soccer team, known as the Lads, has set a new bar for success. With the team’s recent achievements, making Nationals is no longer an unattainable goal, but rather an expectation.
Martin Torres, a Will Rice College junior and a starting right back, said the team now expects to make Nationals after two straight appearances.
“This year, we’re looking to go to nationals again and we’re looking to compete at nationals again,” Torres said. “We’re operating under the assumption that we’re going to make it.”
In the past few years, the Lads have risen in the club soccer ranks from the second division of Texas club soccer to the top division, where they have won their region for two consecutive years.
Two years ago, in 2013, the Lads gained a berth in the National Championship Tournament, and won their group to advance to the second round. However, the tournament was then canceled due to weather and the Lads were not able to continue their quest for the National title.
Last year, the Lads once again won their region and advanced to the National Championship Tournament in Memphis. This time they could not advance from the group stage and lost to the University of Florida and Michigan State University, the defending national champions.
The team’s biggest regret is not the losses themselves; rather, it is not playing to the best of their abilities last year. Torres said last year’s performance in the tournament now provides further motivation for the team.
“If we’re [going to] lose, I want to lose because we’re not as good as the other team,” Torres said. “Last year, we could have won those games. We didn’t play nearly as well as we could have played which was hugely disappointing.”
JB Makhani, a Duncan College senior and Lads co-captain, said the team is expecting to make Nationals once again this year and put on a dominating performance.
“We have been to Nationals the past two years, and that has been an awesome achieve
ment,” Makhani said. “However, now that we are in the top group in the region and playing against big schools such as Texas and Texas A&M, we not only want to go to Nationals, we want to win it. It starts from doing well in conference, and winning regionals.”
Many of the players on the team, including Torres and Makhani, had previously committed to other universities in order to play varsity soccer, but decided to attend Rice instead. Makhani said the Lads provide a high level of play as the only men’s soccer team on campus.
“There is no men’s varsity team at Rice because of Title IX,” Makhani said. “Many of the guys on the team decided against playing at schools across the country to attend Rice. Texas and Texas A&M are in the same situation, and as a result, the level of play is extremely high. We all want to win and we train for it.”
The team’s competitiveness is further exemplified by the difficulty of joining the Lads. This year, they held tryouts with approximately 30 applicants and only two new players were selected. Brown College sophomore Oliver Lucier and Will Rice freshman Eugenio Mesta are the only new members of this year’s Lads team.
Mesta said being the only freshman of the team can be intimidating but the presence of upperclassmen has helped him adjust to college club soccer.
“Although it might seem intimidating, the players are great and look forward to helping you out adapt to their playing style,” Mesta said. “What I like so far is that because we don’t have a coach we count on each other to push ourselves in practice and at the games.”
Torres said Rice students should attend Lads games to watch quality soccer and enjoy the game’s atmosphere and free refreshments.
“We are very successful, compete at a high level and we’re all really cute people,” Torres said. “The Lads are objectively the most attractive student organization on campus.”
The Lads were scheduled to begin their season against rival Texas A&M on Sunday but the game was postponed due to weather. That game has been rescheduled for Oct. 2. The Lads first home game will be on Oct. 27 at 3 p.m. against Southern Methodist University.