The growing club wraps up their first normal season post-COVID.
Club soccer at Wheaton was formed by a group of students in 2006 with a mission to create the experience of competitive soccer without the time commitment of the NCAA team. The group was initially quite small, but has since grown to 23 players.
In 2016, Wheaton’s soccer club became an official member of the highest level of club collegiate soccer in the Midwestern Alliance Soccer Conference (MASC), a soccer association for Midwestern colleges, where they play in the Western Division against teams such as Purdue and the University of Illinois.
In 2019, they gained 20 new players, up 12 from the previous year, and changed their name from Wheaton Club Soccer to Wheaton College Football Club 387 (WCFC 387), the number they were assigned upon membership in MASC. After setting a consistent schedule of practices and games, the club cabinet wrote a formal “clubstitution” to state the team’s purpose and each cabinet member’s role. The team is coached by Torrey Cameron ‘17, who played club soccer during his time at Wheaton and now lives in the area and works in sales.
Accompanying the club’s growth was the adoption of a new motto: “For an audience of one.”
“Everything we do as a team will be done for God’s glory,” said senior captain Mark Echevarria, who plays center back.
The COVID-19 pandemic halted all activities for the club, with only a mild resurgence last spring for a couple of games. This fall season marked a return to regularity for the squad. Even so, the pandemic created quite an experience gap for the team: none of the players on this year’s roster were on the team before the pandemic.
“It’s kind of a weird situation. Because of COVID there isn’t a lot of connection to the past,” said junior Ethan Elder, who plays outside back.
Though the club is still recuperating from the absence of play during the pandemic, things look bright for the players of FC 387.
“We have a good group that plays really well together,” said sophomore Erik Keldsen, a center midfielder. “The guys are genuinely having a great time out there playing with and for each other.”
Traditionally, FC387 has not been co-ed. Prior to this season, women had their own club team, but this season, the group could not rally enough players and had difficulty finding a coach. While an effort to revive the women’s team is underway, the men’s team is allowing interested women to play with them.
The team’s tryout process is held over 3-4 days and looks a lot like normal practice, including passing, possession and shooting drills. Veteran players participate alongside those trying out. The captains then gather together and discuss what they are looking for and which positions they need. They typically recruit 3-5 new players each year. Even if a player gets cut, FC 387 holds a winter soccer league open to all players, not just those on the team.
“I encourage everyone to come to tryouts when they’re held,” said Echevarria. “Playing on a team full of Christians is a completely different experience compared to your club team in high school.”
Organized by team captains Mark Echevarria and Conor Whalen, the seven-week fall season was jam-packed with ten games and practices twice a week at Joe Bean Stadium. The winter and spring seasons are far more relaxed. The team plays “friendlies” with other schools: non-competitive games played for practice and fun.
After warming up, practices consist of several soccer drills designed to build players into better shooters, defenders, passers and possessors of the ball. The captains meet with Coach Cameron before and after practice to discuss upcoming games and what to expect next. Every practice concludes with a team prayer, followed by dinner at Saga to promote fellowship.
The team usually plays games on Saturdays, often requiring teams to play twice in one day so that all schools can play each other. FC 387 competes in the MASC Western Division, which does not separate teams based on academic population like the NCAA. Wheaton’s club team is usually considered an underdog compared to schools like the University of Illinois, Northwestern University and Purdue University, against whom it competes.
Other Wheaton club sports include cheer and lacrosse. Most club teams are more laid back than varsity sports teams. Squad tend to be composed of newcomers and experienced players alike. Wheaton’s club soccer team, however, is composed entirely of experienced players.
“We all had similar expectations and knew what mindset and standards to have going into the season,” said Keldsen. “We’ve all had the shared experiences of playing competitive soccer growing up.”
Nevertheless, the club wants to uphold their mission of keeping soccer fun and competitive without the commitment of a varsity sport.
“It’s all about finding the balance between taking it seriously,” said Elder. “We want to win, we want to improve as a team but we’re also recognizing at the end of the day this is a sport that we love and are trying to enjoy.”
Sophia Sosa is a freshman English Writing major and a guest contributor to the Record.