The Rockhurst men’s soccer program has accomplished just about everything imaginable under longtime coach Tony Tocco — both before and after joining the NCAA in 1998.
The lone bauble missing from the Hawks’ trophy case is the program’s first national title, which the team will try to bring home from the Division II Men’s Soccer Championships in Pensacola, Fla.
No. 5 Rockhurst, 18-1-2, will play No. 17 Cal Poly Pomona, 16-2-3, in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Thursday. It’s the Hawks’ second trip to the semifinals in the past three seasons.
Tocco’s 662 career victories at Rockhurst rank him second among intercollegiate soccer coaches, so there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. So Tocco didn’t mince words when considering what makes this team capable of winning a national title.
“I think we’re young and we’re stupid,” Tocco said with a laugh. “Out of our top 22 or 24 players, we only have three seniors. We’re dominated by sophomores. They’ve got this attitude, they want to win and they want to win now.”
Defense has served the Hawks just as well as youth. The team has 14 shutouts in 22 matches this season. Junior Paul Dean, a Blue Valley North grad, was chosen Great Lakes Valley Conference defensive player of the year.
“Whether you’re a center back or a striker, that’s a requirement Coach Tocco and (associate head coach) Giorgio (Antongirolami) have for us,” Dean said. “The tradition Rockhurst has had is great defense, and we take it personal if teams score on us.”
Rockhurst is also 6-0-3 in overtime matches this season.
“I think it comes from everyone’s expectations, how bad we want to win every single game,” Dean said. “We fear losing more than we want to win. We’re not going to let ourselves down or each other down.”
It’s gotten to the point where Tocco can breathe easy in the tensest moments.
“These guys go into it believing they’re going to win it, and they go out and win the ... game. They’ve found a way to overcome tremendous obstacles and odds to play great all the time.”
The offense has come from everywhere, with 15 players recording a goal this season and no Hawk with more than eight.
“Offense is a privilege, defense is mandatory. I’ve got eight or nine guys who can score at any point in time. I think it’s our youth, they’re wanting to win now and we have great depth,” Tocco said.
It won’t be easy. Cal Poly Pomona has won seven straight. Top-ranked Pfeiffer or No. 6 Charleston would await in the national title game Saturday.
“I think for us, we’ve got to look at it as just another game. We’ve been in big games this whole season, whether conference championship or each round of the NCAA Tournament,” Dean said. “Believing in one another and ourselves, if we stick to that, we can walk away from this tournament happy and satisfied.”