Student-athletes’ worst nightmare

By Chris Bils

The text did not reveal much, only that something important had happened.

Of the 25 players on the roster who received Ashland University men’s soccer coach Jon Freeman’s message May 28 asking to call him right away because he had some bad news, only one guessed what it was.

“What if they just end up cutting the program entirely?” sophomore Dario Barthley suggested to teammate Evan Bader.

The thought had not occurred to Bader, nor did it seem within the realm of possibility to anyone else on the team. Yet sure enough, Barthley’s initial fear became a reality when he and the other players were told that the program had been eliminated due to financial reasons (see page A1 for more).

Suddenly, all of their academic and athletic lives were in limbo. Either they could stick around and accept the scholarships that AU promised to uphold, or they could transfer to another school and continue playing soccer. Because the decision had been made in the the summer, transferring would mean finding a spot on rosters that had been almost entirely filled and sweeping up scholarships that were seemingly nonexistent.

At the start of classes, there are only five remaining men’s soccer players at Ashland. Alex Johnson, Rafael and Guilherme Karaoglan, Zaan Janse and Brandon Lumsden will continue their educations at AU. Everyone else went through the painstaking process of finding another institution with a soccer team that would welcome him, in some cases just weeks before the season started.

Goalkeeper and captain Justin Nolan initially thought the announcement that the team had been cut was the end to his playing career. Nolan, a fifth-year senior, had aligned his credits so that he could come back for his final season of eligibility before graduating in December.

“I thought I was kind of dead in the water and stuck at Ashland,” Nolan said.

Two summer classes, a dropped lease agreement on a house, a long look at NCAA regulations, many conversations with professors and a stressful recruitment process later, Nolan is set to take the field as a Walsh Cavalier this fall.

“It’s a really special case,” Nolan said. “No one has really tried to transfer to play one last semester that an NCAA representative had heard of.”

To become eligible to play for Walsh under NCAA rules, Nolan must complete a full transfer to the school and take a full slate of classes. However, all of those classes will transfer back to Ashland at the end of the semester so that he is able to graduate as planned with a diploma from AU in December.

Walsh head coach John Hall, who recruited Nolan when he was the coach at Ashland, reached out to Nolan as soon as the announcement was made. Nolan also considered Ohio Northern and Findlay, but was set on Walsh as soon as he knew his credits would transfer. He has been assured the starting role in net for the Cavaliers.

Freeman made himself available to every player who wanted to transfer, offering assistance contacting coaches and doing everything else within his power to ensure that his players could continue their careers.

“Jon went above and beyond,” AU athletic director Bill Goldring said. “He’s always been a great professional. I feel bad for him, but he understands it too. He doesn’t have to like it and I told him he doesn’t have to like it, but he understands and handled himself with a lot of class.”

Some of the most complicated situations that arose were those of the five foreign players who attempted to transfer. Barthley, a native of Antigua, was still in the process of updating his visa when The Collegian contacted him last week. He will attend Baldwin Wallace this fall.

“It was a really unexpected and tough process,” he said.

The other four non-Americans who have moved to other institutions are from England. Because of the five-hour time difference, emails had to be responded to late at night and arranging phone calls to coaches and schools proved difficult and expensive. Adam Mitchell, a junior from Brighton, England, was told via a Facebook message from senior Max Rohda that the program had been cut.

“There was nothing I could really do about it so I just had to deal with it,” he said.

Mitchell, a forward, immediately started emailing coaches. He received interest right away and quickly narrowed the search to Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, Gannon, Notre Dame College and Ohio Dominican, eventually settling on Notre Dame. Still, it took him a month-and-a-half to officially transfer and he is still waiting for his transcripts as he trains in Cleveland.

“Waiting until halfway into the summer, especially being abroad and not being in America at the time really put me in a difficult situation,” Mitchell said.

Junior Alex Kemp, a two-year starter for the Eagles from Huddersfield, England, found a home at Division I IPFW. Sam Mountstephens will join Nolan at Walsh and Mike King will play at the University of Indianapolis.

Rohda will join King at Indy. Rohda did not have much time to contact coaches following the cutting of the program because he was set to leave on a three-week family vacation June 7. He weighed his options while travelling around the Pacific Northwest and taking an Alaskan cruise.

“I just kind of thought about it all of my vacation and then I got back and visited Indianapolis the day I got back and I knew that was just the right fit as cheesy as that sounds,” he said.

Rohda, who was set to be a captain on the 2013 AUMS squad, will look to make a name for himself on his new team. Even though he is expected to start, his role will no doubt be diminished as a newcomer.

“You can’t really expect anything because they could already have all of their set leaders that everyone listens to and I come in and I’m supposed to be more passive,” he said.

For Taylor Dyson, who was going to be a freshman at Ashland, the process of choosing a school lasted all the way until three weeks ago when he finally committed to Division III Mount Vernon Nazarene. Dyson had to compete at tryouts and camps and then apply and write essays to five different schools that showed interest.

“That’s all I’ve been doing (all summer),” Dyson said.

Mitch Griffiths, Andreas Kolaczko and Danny Nagy will join Mitchell at Notre Dame College.

Ian Jacobs will continue his career at Tiffin after sitting out a year with a torn ACL.

Goalkeeper Evan Bader will have an opportunity to compete for the starting spot for Ohio Northern, which made it to the Division III national championship a year ago.

Lucas Hunt transferred to Wooster, Chris Lindemeyer will play at Hiram, Justin Ball will join Barthley at Baldwin Wallace and Eric Ashley will move on to Division I Canisius.

Ryan Galley, Ryan Prescott and Eddy Wild also transferred away from Ashland as a result of the program being cut and will continue their careers elsewhere.