A look back: Our one and only
By ANNA MCNULTY
They’ve been the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ one and only for 50 years.
As UMSL celebrates its 50th anniversary throughout 2013 with the Jubilee, it seems fitting to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the only NCAA Division II National Championship the university has won in its first half century. The men of the 1973 Rivermen soccer team are to thank, bringing home the championship trophy after blanking The University of California–Fullerton with a score of 3-0 on Dec. 8 in Springfield, Mass.
Setting the scene
Led by legendary coach Don Dallas, the UMSL men’s soccer team was no stranger to success before December of 1973. Ending the 1972 season with a loss in the regional finals to the University of Akron (Ohio), the UMSL men’s soccer team was left hungry for more. The majority of the players were born and raised in St. Louis, many coming out of area high schools such as St. Mary’s, Rosary and Normandy.
Dallas established a pipeline from St. Louis Community College–Florissant Valley for third-year transfers, bringing in local talent that tended to be overlooked by other colleges in the area. A competitive spirit brought the fateful 1973 team together that year, every member yearning to prove that UMSL was a force to be reckoned with alongside other Midwestern schools such as Quincy (Ill.) University, Flo-Valley and perennial powerhouse Saint Louis University.
And so it began …
The first game of the season was set against cross-town rival SLU, the defending NCAA Division I champion who would also capture the crown in 1973. UMSL tied SLU 3-3.
Mark LeGrand, a sophomore midfielder that season, described the outcome as a “springboard for the season” and one that became a defining moment in the program.
“SLU went up 2-0 in the first 15 minutes of the game and we could have easily rolled over,” LeGrand said. “Instead we fought all the way back to tie the game 3-3 and easily could have been the victors. Coach Dallas made some key substitutions that helped turn the game around and would cement our lineup for the year.”
The season progressed with two more ties against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Rockhurst College (now Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.) as well as another key win against Quincy University, which would bring home the NAIA championship trophy later that year.
The Rivermen advanced through the NCAA playoff games with wins against Western Illinois University (Macomb), Eastern Illinois University (Charleston) and Adelphi University (Garden City, N.Y.). Along the way, the team took two major hits with injuries. Tim Smith, the team’s leading goal scorer, as well as Ken Hudson, a four-year starter, were out for the championship. The team entered the game against California-Fullerton with a record of 10-0-3 and two big spots to fill.
The championship game
The team reached a consensus on championship day.
Assistant Coach Tim Fitzsimmons remembered the team’s biggest motivation for winning the title was “proving to ourselves and the St. Louis soccer community that UMSL could compete with anyone on a national level.”
With SLU and numerous other schools in the area receiving attention and recognition for many years, it was finally UMSL’s turn in the spotlight. They shined as they performed that night of December 8.
LeGrand described how history unfolded.
“We went up quickly in the game, and then added a second goal right before the end of the first half,” he said. “In the locker room at the half there was a quiet calm and confidence that we had control of the championship.”
That control carried into the second half when Kevin Missey tacked on another goal with barely more than 10 minutes to play. California-Fullerton never recovered.
Missey was named MVP of the game despite entering it with just one goal all season.
Missey, along with goalie Frank Tusinski, were named to the All-America First team. It was a proud moment for all of the members on the team.
“Our small Division II school in the Midwest had two starters on the first team. No other school had two on the first team,” said Pat Reagan, a senior. Missey and Tusinski were joined by players from Penn State University (University Park, Penn.), Brown University (Providence, R.I.) and Clemson (S.C.) University.
The Rivermen celebrated their title all the way back to St. Louis where they were presented as the 1973 National Champions at the UMSL basketball game straight from the airport.
Today, the team members attribute their outstanding success to both the players and coaching staff.
“There was a great balance in coaching and in playing,” Reagan said. “Each coach and player had their role in achieving team success and no one individual was better than the others. Each player complemented each other on the field.”
Reagan also remembers the late coach Dallas, now permanently honored at what is now the Don Dallas Soccer Field where both the women’s and men’s soccer teams play today.
“Coach Dallas (or Big D as the players and staff called him) was an imposing figure due to his size – over 6 feet tall and he tipped the scales at over 300 pounds,” Reagan said.
Fond memories of Coach Dallas are not all the team shares today. Fitzsimmons described the team as a whole as “special and crazy (unconventional).”
LeGrand added to the description.
“Socially, the team was unbelievably close. I believe this chemistry was built by the UMSL teams that preceded us and passed on by each team,” he said.
The team chemistry didn’t end in 1973.
The majority of the 1973 players will participate in an annual golf tournament in August, a tradition that still holds strong today even 40 years after the championship.
“Golf and the annual St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame ceremony keeps the group close together,” Reagan said.
Although the bond of the Rivermen team still stands strong today, two members of the 1973 championship team have passed away. Tim Smith, whose name still lingers in the UMSL record book for goals scored in a single season, died in a motorcycle accident the year after the national championship. He had an offer to play with the Miami Toros at the time of his death.
Pat Hogan, a freshman during the 1973 season, lost his battle with ALS in 2010. He would go on to become a leader of the UMSL men’s soccer team the following three years and was later inducted into the UMSL Sports Hall of Fame.
Although they are gone, their memory has not been forgotten by their UMSL family.
“Every time I wear my NCAA Championship ring I think of all the great memories of that team and season,” LeGrand said.
The 1973 men’s soccer team continues to be a symbol of hard work, dedication and passion – the one and only national champions – the greatest team ever to have competed at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
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