TROY — With milestones reached and several program-best marks set, the RPI men’s soccer program’s next goal to reach is to keep its spectacular season going.
RPI gets that chance at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Amherst College, where the Engineers will play Messiah College in their first-ever NCAA Division III tournament Sweet 16 matchup. Last weekend, RPI won 4-0 against Eastern Nazarene before advancing via penalty kicks following a 0-0 tie with Middlebury in the tournament’s first two rounds.
"It's incredible to make it this far. We've made the tournament five times in the past 11 years and this is the first time past the second round," RPI head coach Adam Clinton said at Thursday’s practice. “This has just been a fantastic run."
RPI finished in first place in the Liberty League this season and brings a 15-2-4 overall mark into its matchup with Messiah College. Along the way, RPI has set new program-best marks in wins (15), goals scored (43), winning streak (10) and unbeaten streak (15).
"We've had the ability to score some goals. It gets harder as you get further along in the competition, but five out of our last six games we got shutouts. So that helps, as it's something we were working on," Clinton said. "The guys have done a great job of compartmentalizing each game, and we never look ahead. We just go one game at a time.”
RPI is ranked No. 12 and No. 14 in the national polls, while Messiah College is ranked eighth and sixth.
Leading RPI this season has been freshman Josh Gaudiano, who has set program-best marks in goals with 15 and points with 35.
“It's been extremely fun. Coming in here, I wasn't expecting too much. But getting to where we are now has been overwhelming, but also exhilarating," said Gaudiano, who is from Manhattan Beach, California. “The bond that we built has really helped our team chemistry in games and helped us produce more on the field. It feels awesome competing for a spot in the Elite Eight. Being a part of school history is really cool."
Gaudiano created history of his own when he was selected Liberty League Co-Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, the first player in Liberty League history to earn both honors in the same year.
"I'm speechless. I would never assume I would be receiving something like that," Gaudiano said. "I couldn't do that without my team, so it was a true team effort and accomplishment, and we all worked together to get me where I am.”
Clinton, a Shenendehowa graduate, and his coaching staff also received recognition, honored as the Liberty League’s top coaching staff for the third time. RPI will need to be at its best against Messiah, an 11-time national champion with an 18-2-2 mark this season.
“I got the job in 2002, and we've been building ever since, so it's great to lead this team,” Clinton said. “We want to win a national championship and it may seem like a far thing to get to, but we have to go one step at a time. We are two steps away from the Final Four, so we have to hope we can get through these two and go from there. Messiah is very good and they have a great history with 11 national championships. We have to be disciplined.”