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Club soccer gets more competitive thanks to Board of Visitors grant

by Chuck Gordon

Miguel Cabalceta ran cross country and track his first couple of years at Wingate, but he said varsity sports felt too much like a job. Which is interesting, because the athletic pursuit he replaced running with, club soccer, has turned into something of a job itself.

Cabalceta is the president of Wingate’s club soccer team, and thanks to a grant from the University’s Board of Visitors, the team has taken its operations to the next level this year. Led by Cabalceta and Justin Dominique, both juniors, the team has had a successful first season competing as part of the national collegiate-recreation organization NIRSA.

Wingate club soccer team photo

The Bulldogs finished their regular season 3-3. All the matches have been close, and they’ve all been against much larger schools whose varsity teams play in NCAA Division I. Wins over UNC Wilmington and Coastal Carolina are the highlights of the season so far, and Wingate also narrowly lost to N.C. State, 1-0.

“People come thinking, Oh they’re not going to be that good. They’re just a little DII school,” Cabalceta says. “But we always give them a run for their money.”

Speaking of money, the club has some this year. After existing for a few years as a casual group that primarily played intrasquad scrimmages, the club made a concerted effort to put a $4,000 grant from the Board of Visitors to good use. They bought a set of uniforms and have traveled to matches a couple of times.

And next month they’ll actually be participating in a national tournament. NIRSA runs a pair of “national championship” events: one for the championship division, in which teams have to qualify by advancing out of regional play; and one for the open division, in which team names are drawn out of a hat.

In a lucky twist, Wingate, which had registered in the open division, was selected during a drawing on Oct. 1, and the Bulldogs will now head to Foley, Alabama, Nov. 18-22 to compete against UCLA, Harvard and a number of other large universities.

“The way Campus Rec put it, it’s a Cinderella story,” Cabalceta says. “Everything’s going so well.”

Cabalceta and Dominique have experienced something of a learning curve. They’ve had to figure out how to manage a budget, set a starting lineup, book referees and work out transportation and lodging.

There have been a few headaches along the way. The team was supposed to play a doubleheader in the Triangle area – a match against UNC Chapel Hill on the Tar Heels’ home field, followed by a match at N.C. State – but Cabalceta got a call from his State counterpart midway through the UNC game saying the field was unplayable. The Wolfpack wound up making the game up at Wingate.

Wingate club soccer team celebrating a good play

Any problems have been overshadowed by the fun the team has had. The club organizers set up a booth at Street Fair and wound up with 50 potential players showing up for the first practice. The club now has about 35 players, ranging from beginners who just want to get some exercise to former Division I players and one player (Dominique) who took part in the U.S. Olympic Development Program during his high-school years.

The team usually dresses out 25 players for home games but, because of transportation issues, limits the roster to 20 for away games.

Everyone who wants to see some game action can. “If we have two games in one weekend,” Cabalceta says, “we have one where we prioritize for a win, and the other one we try to win with the reserves so they get some time on the field.”

The team has drawn larger crowds than Cabalceta anticipated, meeting one of the goals stated in the club’s application to the Board of Visitors: “It will add to the overall school spirit of Wingate University, as the student body will have another team to rally behind.”

It boosts the players’ spirit as well. “It’s a lot of fun,” Cabalceta says. “Once we get through the stretch of how we’re going to get where we’re going and who’s going to play, we just play and enjoy ourselves.”

Wingate Club Soccer’s request for funding was one of eight granted this year by Wingate’s Board of Visitors, which awarded a total of $50,252 in the spring.

Nov. 10, 2021