Dan Gelfand/The Hoya Junior forward Ellery Bledsoe tries to dribble around a defender during last weekend’s 1-0 loss to Connecticut. The loss keeps Georgetown from playing in its 12th consecutive Big East tournament.

“To try and predict the future of the Hoyas would be a monumental task.” So ran the first line to the men’s soccer team preview in the Sept. 30, 1954 issue of THE HOYA.

At a time when Georgetown consciously tried to scale back the size of its athletic programs as the varsity football squad disbanded, the soccer team quietly entered the fold of sports on the Hilltop. To try and guess where this little team might end up would have been difficult indeed. Coached by a graduate student and made up of walk-ons, the team began inauspiciously. The game of soccer may have begun its global dominance, but in the United States it took a back seat to its cousin football – even intramural football gained more fans on campus than the soccer team. From the beginning, though, it attracted a group of followers and immediately became a fall staple.

The first years were rather rough; the team failed much more often than it succeeded. The squad met with local rivals such as Howard, Catholic, George Washington and Maryland, but usually walked away with a loss. The Hoyas, however, played for love of the sport more than anything, and this helped buoy them despite continually weak results. By the mid ’60s, the program had reached a plateau, beating smaller liberal arts colleges and coming up short against the bigger competitors.

That the team persevered throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s serves as a testament to the commitment on behalf on the coaching staff and players. In 1964, the team had to play its home games at American University because the field conditions at Georgetown were so poor. It would not be until more than 20 years later that the Hoyas would play on a well-maintained pitch.

The team consisted solely of walk-ons. Without any money for scholarships, it was impossible to recruit top players. Funding in general was an issue, the team had to siphon off the profits from other sports in order to stay afloat. With the return of varsity football to Georgetown in 1963, the sport already classified as a “minor sport,” sank to an even lower level oblivion. Besides, everyone loves a winner, and even head coach Tim Cooney confessed in 1973 that “a consistently winning team is hard to maintain.”

“Georgetown was a game we looked forward to. It was one of the weaker teams on the schedule. Georgetown was made up of a bunch of people who loved playing soccer, but in terms of the level of play. you could figure that it was going to be a win for our side,” current head coach Keith Tabatznik said of his days spent playing for American University.

On the other side of the field during the final years of the 1970s, Tabatznik was a three year letter-winner at American who helped propel his team into the top eight in the nation in the 1979 season. Upon leaving American, Tabatznik took a job at George Washington as an assistant coach before learning about the position for head coach at Georgetown.

“I called Joe Lang, who was the assistant director of athletics at the time and got an interview. I had an hour-long interview with Mr. Rienzo, the Athletic Director, and was offered the job,” Tabatznik explained. “It was extremely part-time and I told him [Rienzo] in the interview that I only saw myself being around for a few years and moving on to something else.”

While Tabatznik may not have had grand, long term plans for the Hoyas, he took things day-by-day and started making small but important changes. First, he helped the team secure Harbin Field for home games, a large step up for the team. While the newspapers derided the athletic department’s overzealous protection of the field, it helped lend a more serious atmosphere to the game. Tabatznik had other plans as well. He was certain that Georgetown could “compete at the Division I level,” including in the newly-formed Big East soccer conference and also alongside perpetual area powerhouses such as American or Maryland.

“With the right attitude, the team is going to come along, and in three or four years down the line we are really going to be good,” Tabatznik told THE HOYA in his first interview on the Hilltop on Sept. 14, 1984.

At the end of his first season, Tabatznik helped steer the team to a 6-10-2 record. While not particularly impressive, the last time the Hoyas had won six games in a season was 1968. Still, THE HOYA noted that the team was “still smarting from inexperience and a slowly developing sense of finesse.”

Tabatznik said that “if you’re a lightweight, you don’t beat a heavyweight. David only beat Goliath once.” To that end, Georgetown bulked up with the arrival of Eddie Diaz, a Junior National Team player from Miami in the fall of 1986. With Diaz (CAS ’90) on the field, Georgetown began to climb to the top rungs of the Big East.

“Eddie Diaz was my first major recruit. He was recruited by most of the top 10 teams in the country, and he had no business choosing Georgetown,” Tabatznik said. “Eddie’s decision to come to Georgetown opened the door for every serious student-athlete soccer player to consider Georgetown.”

In 1988, the team had its first winning season in the Big East and set a record for number of victories in one season, finishing 12-7-1. The Hoyas finished second in the South Division of the conference and gained the fourth and final berth to the postseason tournament. Despite losing 2-0 to national powerhouse Seton Hall, the team had shown that it was mature and could compete on a national level. For the next six seasons, the team finished with a .500 record or better, leading to the team’s great leap forward in the 1994 season.

With pots and spoons in hand to raise a ruckus, thousands of fans took to the stands to watch the Hoyas that year. Having finished the previous season in second place in the league with a 9-8-2 record for the season, Georgetown showed incredible dynamism on the field, winning an incredible 18 games that season for an 18-4-0 record which culminated in a 2-1 overtime win over St. John’s to capture the regular season Big East title. As the top seed in the tournament, the Hoyas knocked out the Seton Hall Pirates 2-1 in the semifinal to set up a rematch against St. John’s in the finals. Georgetown could not repeat its regular season success and fell 1-0, but still earned a berth in the NCAA tournament, a long way to go for a team that witnessed seven players quit after the 1983 season due to frustration and poor performance.

“Personally, it was an overwhelming year. That team was magical, and so was the school that year,” Tabatznik said. “To walk into the NCAA game that year when we played Maryland at home, when there were close to 5,000 people down there on Harbin Field . I’ll never forget walking onto the field that day and remembering back to my first years at Georgetown when there were more players than fans.”

In the first round of the tournament, Georgetown succumbed to aryland 4-3, but nevertheless the team had made its mark on the Hilltop. Goalkeeper Phil Wellington (CAS ’95) garnered Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors and he and two other players received mention on the All-Big East First Team while three other players were named to the Second Team as well. Tabatznik, having stayed on at Georgetown for a little longer than planned, was able to see his predictions come true, and earned the conference’s Coach of the Year Award.

“The biggest credit that there is for this program are the guys who have been able to achieve and overachieve and make a name for Georgetown. Soccer is a player’s game. We’ve had so many teams with such high character, and that includes my first team that only won six games. That was a major accomplishment for them,” Tabatznik said.

With the bar clearly set at a new level, the Hoyas failed to duplicate their success during the 1995 season, but still managed to grab a spot in the Big East tournament as the sixth seed. The next year was similar, but 1997 was another breakout year for the team. Losing only twice in conference play, to St. John’s and to Seton Hall, the Georgetown Hoyas finished one point behind the Red Storm to finish second place in the Big East. With a 15-7-0 record, the team also finished with its second highest number of wins in one season. The team fell in the Big East semifinals to Rutgers, but once again qualified for the NCAA tournament.

In the first round, the Hoyas grabbed their only NCAA victory, 2-1 over Virginia Commonwealth. Drawing Virginia in the second round during its reign of terror over men’s soccer in the late ’90s doomed Georgetown to an early exit, 5-1. The team, however, had proven that it could maintain its level of success over many seasons. Tabatznik once again received Big East Coach of the Year honors while Eric Kvello (MSB ’99) was selected as Co-Offensive Player of the Year, a feat he would top as an All-American the next season.

Since 1997, the team has failed to return to the NCAA tournament, but has remained among the most competitive teams in the country. In 1999 the team reached the Big East Championships again, upsetting St. John’s and top seed Rutgers along the way before falling 2-0 to Connecticut in the title match. Last season featured wins over nationally ranked squads from Rutgers and Notre Dame, and a tie against No. 1 St. John’s. This year the team took down No. 23 Virginia Tech and nearly stunned No. 2 aryland on its own turf.

Georgetown has also sent 10 players so far to the professional leagues, including two MLS draft picks: Kvello and Brandon Lieb (CAS ’97).

With 50 unpredictable years behind it, the Georgetown men’s soccer program looks for something more consistent and high achieving. With a national reputation in both soccer and academics along with scholarship funds, the men’s soccer team has been better able to cast its net throughout the country in the past decade. With continued alumni and school support, the team can only grow and develop.

“My planning doesn’t go much beyond the next game. However, I will say that I hope very much that we can find a way to support the program scholarship-wise so that we can truly compete for a national championship,” Tabatznik said.

After 50 years, it is still as hard as in 1953 to say where this program will go, but maybe Tabatznik understands that the best.

“On the field, I’ll always say that the greatest moment is yet to come.”

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