The ties that bind a team
This fall the St. Olaf College men’s soccer team concluded a remarkable 16-1-1 regular season (10-0-0 in conference play) by clinching the fourth outright regular-season conference championship in program history. St. Olaf is just the fifth team in the history of the conference to win all 10 of its Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) regular-season games.
This success has been fueled by a tight-knit team of 30 student-athletes, three coaches, and two student managers from around the world. Roughly a third of the team’s roster is composed of international student-athletes. Brothers Lucas Gaulmin and Victor Gaulmin, as well as Thierno Gueye, all hail from France. The team also includes student-athletes from Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, Guatemala, and Jordan, in addition to student-athletes from across the U.S. — from Seattle to Denver to Florida. Bonded by their passion for the most popular sport in the world, these teammates have developed a community that supports and encourages each other both on and off the field.
“Soccer as a sport in general is an unbelievable tool to be able to unite people,” says head coach Travis Wall, who is in his third year at St. Olaf and was instrumental in guiding the program back to the MIAC Playoffs in his first year and has now re-established the program on the national level this fall.
Wall’s second season at St. Olaf was marred by the global pandemic, but despite this challenge, Wall took it as an opportunity to build up his squad — and build a sense of community.
“Obviously we didn’t get a season last year due to COVID, but in a weird way, it worked out alright, because we got an entire year of just practice. We got to play eight games last spring, and while they were a little different because we had to wear masks and some other little things like that, it was exactly what a really young team needed,” Wall says. “We got to grow up a little bit and just get a feel for what college soccer was like.”
Among the second-year student-athletes is Hakeem Morgan, who hails from San Jose, Costa Rica. Morgan says he has had a ball at his feet since he was three years old, and has wanted to play soccer professionally since he was six. Soccer is embedded in almost every aspect of his life, and at St. Olaf it’s also provided him with a family away from home.
“We have really good friendships on the team, and I feel like it’s my family away from home. I don’t have my parents, my little brother, and my little sister here. And if something’s going on with me, I know I have people on the team that I can trust and I can talk to, and they make me feel like I’m at home,” he says.
This type of trust and comfort with one another has translated onto the pitch as well. “If I play a ball to one of my teammates, I play it because I trust them in a contest,” Morgan says. “I trust that he’ll keep the ball and he will do something good with the ball.”
This teamwork has translated on the field, as the team ranks No. 12 in the country in assists per game (2.65) out of over 400 NCAA Division III teams. Along with Morgan, Victor Gaulmin ranks among the conference leaders in goals and assists this season with eight goals and seven assists. Soccer, known as football in most countries around the world, has the same set of simple rules globally. However, players may grow up with slightly different styles around the world.
“The transition between my French soccer style to the U.S. soccer style was kind of difficult, to be honest. Sometimes I would just spend extra time with Travis at the end of practice,” Gaulmin says. “The other American teammates were really, really helpful to me and my brother Lucas.”
Before coming to St. Olaf, Victor Gaulmin had never gotten to play together with his older brother on the same team, owing to their three-year age difference. In France, and most other countries around the world, young players tend to play for a club or academy rather than for a school team. Therefore, the Gaulmin brothers played at different age brackets. The older Gaulmin has made his best efforts to mentor his sibling, giving him important advice not only about soccer, but academics and campus life as well. The transition from high school to college can be a tough adjustment for any student, but is often especially so for students who are moving from another continent. Lucas Gaulmin says his first two years at St. Olaf were quite challenging as he learned to balance athletics and academics, while spending all day learning and socializing in a different language. When his brother arrived on campus, he offered guidance based on his own experiences.
“I told him that you need to make sure you’re working hard right away in the classroom. And then you can just focus on competing afterwards on the field,” Lucas Gaulmin says. “Soccer to me is everything. It’s been my passport for a new life. Basically without soccer, I would have never come to the U.S. and I wouldn’t be here today.”
On the field, Lucas Gaulmin’s mentorship extends far beyond his brother. As one of the team’s captains, he directs the flow of the game from his position in the midfield. This has taught him a lot about working with Oles from different backgrounds.
“Living together daily with people from different countries, places, religions, and ethnicities, it’s pretty hard to do because for every perspective, someone has different sensitivities or expectations and beliefs,” he says. “It’s pretty hard, but also I think it’s a very enriching experience.”
Thierno Gueye, the other team captain who hails from the suburbs of Paris, France, is a studio art major with an environmental studies concentration. He also had a brother, Amadou Gueye ’17, come through the St. Olaf men’s soccer team’s ranks. Thierno Gueye’s years on the team have seen him exchange cultures with his teammates, whether it be learning new words in Portuguese or blaring out French music in the locker room. Gueye believes that this has been a great way for the team to build on their relationships.
“I think the best thing I could take away from my time on the team is being able to give an ear to everybody regardless of their background and work through whatever comes our way together as a team to make the most of our differences,” he says. “Adaptability and teamwork is the biggest thing I’ll take away from my St. Olaf experience.”
I think the best thing I could take away from my time on the team is being able to give an ear to everybody regardless of their background and work through whatever comes our way together as a team to make the most of our differences. Adaptability and teamwork is the biggest thing I’ll take away from my St. Olaf experience.Thierno Gueye
After winning the program’s first MIAC regular-season championship since 2014, St. Olaf earned an at-large berth into the NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer Championship and hosted the first two rounds of the tournament. The Oles beat Dominican University and Loras College, moving to the tournament’s Sweet 16, where they lost to North Park University. The run to the third round matches the 2015 team for the deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history, and closes the season with a school-record 19 wins.