Seniors Nathan Dean and Jason Waterman have had their share of memorable experiences in their four years on the Elon University men’s soccer team.
They’ve not only had success on the pitch with three straight Southern Conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances under their belts, but they have also had the good fortune of playing under the tutelage of some of the program’s greatest leaders and mentors, such as Gabe Latigue and Daniel Lovitz.
To replace that leadership, the Phoenix has chosen to employ a more collective approach to leading the team forward.
“We don’t want there to be only one or two leaders and everyone else follows,” Waterman said. “We think everyone should have the opportunity to lead and step up and have a high accountability for themselves. We want everyone to feel comfortable enough to talk about their job and how they can work to improve that job.”
But, as seniors, Dean and Waterman will be looked to take the reins and teach the younger, less experienced players how to effectively adjust to the college game.
“It’s important that upperclassmen step up and demonstrate to the younger guys, especially the freshmen, what the ‘Elon standard’ is about,” Waterman said. “Teaching them to win every single drill and to do everything they can to improve their own game to help the team.”
In the eyes of Chris Little, Elon’s head coach, there could not be two better ambassadors for both his program and the school itself, especially as the program ushers in a new era in the Colonial Athletic Association with heightened expectations after last year’s historic NCAA tournament victory.
But it’s not just their athletic ability that sets Dean and Waterman apart. Little is quick to point out that each has an impressive academic record and raves about their infectious personalities. Both qualities, he said, make them natural role models for the younger players.
“Nathan and Jason are not only leaders on the field with their performances, but off it as well,” Little said. “They’re focused on their academic success and how to best represent this university. They are fantastic leaders by example, and hopefully they are able to pass down the standards, values and expectations we expect of them to the younger players.”
Dean has no doubt the team’s newcomers will have few problems adjusting to their new surroundings, a result of the coaching staff making it a mission to only recruit players they feel can handle the pressure of fulfilling lofty expectations when they step onto campus.
“When the coaching staff recruits people, they do their homework and make it a priority to bring in not only good players, but also the right kind of people who will fit into the environment that we’re creating here,” Dean said. “The guys who come in are already the kind of people that are going to fit into our system.”
In Dean’s eyes, the upperclassmen’s job is to assist the freshmen in adjusting to the college game. Dean tries to help those from foreign nations, in particular, as he experienced three years ago as a freshman from England.
“It’s certainly a step up and can certainly take people a little bit of time to make that adjustment,” Dean said. “But we expect that. The main goal for us as a senior class is to help them get to the point where they can add value to our team as quickly as possible.”
That adjustment, does not appear to be too steep for this year’s incoming class.
“We’re seeing already the freshman class bring some special stuff in to training,” Dean said. “We hope that they can continue to provide good play because once we get toward the end of the season and we get tired legs, it’s a good boost for our team if we have those guys adding value.”
With a new class of hungry, self-motivated underclassmen and strong veteran leadership in place, the Phoenix has all the ingredients in place for a fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.