By: Sasha Ricciuti

When I started playing on the McMaster men’s soccer team, I did not realize how much I was about to learn over the next five years. To play on a team that exemplified what it means to be a hardworking and successful student-athlete transformed me into the best possible version of myself going into my graduating year.

The things I have learned on and off the field will stick with me forever. These are just a few of the life lessons I’ve taken away from my time as a Marauder.

You are always accountable for your actions

If there is one thing I can say I underestimated going into my first year on the team, it was the importance of being accountable. Coaches Dino Perri, Joe Valvasori and Anthony Costa immediately taught me what it meant to be accountable, not only for my actions on the field but off the field as well. As student-athletes, we are representing the entire university every time we compete, wherever we travel. Thanks to them, I will never forget the importance of being the best version of myself at all times, no matter if somebody is watching.

Being a student-athlete requires sacrifice 

Not many people truly understand the time commitment that it takes to be a student-athlete. I quickly learned how committed I had to be in the summer before my first year during the pre-season. Transitioning into the school year, we began practicing five times a week and playing in two games. We also had strength and conditioning training and weekly film sessions through November. This is not always easy as you have to learn to balance school work and having a social life. But irreplaceable moments like playing in a national final in my second year would not have been possible if it was not for those sacrifices.

What it means to be a leader

Having the captaincy my last year, I quickly learned that it is much more than wearing the armband on the field. Having had the chance to play under coach Costa, who is a former Marauder, showed me what it really meant to be good leader. So when it was my turn to lead, I tried my best to model his leadership style. From team talks to handling the laundry to getting to know each rookie on a personal level, being a captain was one of the most important things I have done in my life and a skill I know I will use in the future.

Your team becomes your family

From my first year to my fifth year, the bonds I have made with everyone, from former players to my current teammates, are invaluable to me. As cliché as it sounds, I realized there is truly no “I” in team. We have seen each other at the best of times and the worst, and these friendships will hopefully last a lifetime. Being a Marauder is more than just the play on the field – we are one big family.

Appreciate the memories

The best team memory I have had would most likely be our playoff run in 2014 when we won a national silver medal, which has only been done once before in the program’s history. We finished second in the Ontario University Athletics West that year, and played Western in a grueling quarterfinal matchup where we won 1-0. We would then host the OUA Final Four that year, beating Ryerson in the semifinals in a penalty shoot-out that booked our ticket to nationals in Prince Edward Island. We would go on to win the national quarterfinal and semifinal in penalty shootouts, and play in the national final. Though we fell short losing 1-0 to York in the final, the perseverance we showed that year was outstanding and showed me from an early stage what it meant to be a Marauder.

Another one of my most memorable moments would be scoring a hat trick against Guelph this year. During my five years at Mac, I have beaten every single team I have played against in our division – except for Guelph, who also knocked us out of the playoffs last year. I have also scored against every single team in my five years in our division – except for Guelph. Playing them at home for the first time this season, we would not only beat Guelph for the first time since 2012, but I was also able to score a hat trick in a 4-2 victory. We would also go on to beat Guelph two more times, 2-1 in Guelph and then 1-0 in the Ontario quarterfinal playoffs. That feeling of running down the field after the third goal was surreal, and was easily one of the most memorable moments of my life.

So to anyone reading this, whether you are a rookie just starting your journey or are going into your last year as a Marauder, cherish every moment you have and make the most of every practice, game and playoff run. Learn to be accountable, make sacrifices, show leadership, build friendships and make memories. And by the end of your journey, you too will know what it means to be a Marauder.

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