Belmont Abbey soccer started in 1958 with legendary coach, hosted national finals in 1966 and has won many championships
By Richard Walker
With 573 victories, 13 district titles and 12 conference regular season and tournament titles, it’s clear to see how rich Belmont Abbey College’s history has been in the sport of soccer since playing its first game in the fall of 1958.
The program also has produced multiple All-Americans, was initially coached by eventual Basketball Hall of Famer and it also hosted a national championship tournament when the program was just seven years old in 1966.
Though school records list Father Bertrand Pattison as head coach in that first season of 1958, clippings in Charlotte and Gastonia newspapers said the iconic Al McGuire as the school’s first soccer head coach. McGuire guided the Crusaders to their first NAIA national tournament in 1962 before gaining greater fame as a two-time national champion Marquette University basketball coach (1970 NIT, 1977 NCAA) and as a basketball television analyst.
McGuire guided the 1958 team to a 1-3-1 record that included games against nearby Pfeiffer and Davidson and Emory of Atlanta.
The Crusaders lost their first game on Oct. 14 at Pfeiffer by a 9-1 margin. After three more losses – to Davidson twice and Pfeiffer again – the Abbey broke through with a 3-0 home win over Emory.
And while the school didn’t field a team with a winning record until 1965, it did schedule aggressively in a sport that was slowly gaining teams in the Carolinas.
In 1960, the Crusaders played their first ACC opponent in a 5-0 loss at North Carolina.
In 1961, the Abbey took its first win over an ACC school when it won 2-1 over visiting N.C. State.
Davidson, Pfeiffer, Emory, Appalachian State, Guilford, Campbell and Furman were among other early opponents for the Crusaders, whose program began improving under another Belmont Abbey basketball coach when Bill Clarke coached the team from 1964 to 1966.
Clarke became the first coach in school history with a winning record (28-17-1) and also guided the Crusaders to their first title in 1966.
And with the support of Belmont Abbey athletic director Howard A. “Humpy” Wheeler, Sr., Clarke bid on hosting the 1966 NAIA national soccer championships. The NAIA office in Kansas City, Mo., announced the Crusaders’ Alumni Field as the site on Nov. 30, 1965.
Even after going 10-6 in 1965 – the school’s first winning season – there was little reason to believe the 1966 team would advance all the way to the NAIA Final Four it was hosting.
But after an 0-2 start, that’s exactly what the Crusaders did.
Clarke switched from a 3-2-5 alignment to a 3-3-4 alignment after losing back-to-back games at Washington & Lee (1-3) and Lynchburg (2-3) to open the season.
And the Abbey won 14 of its next 15 matches – losing only at North Carolina – before it lost both of its Final Four games to finish 4th in the country. It remains the highest finish in the sport in school history.
Two of the Crusaders’ standouts – forward Benny Farmer of Goldsboro and keeper Kevin Soden of Richmond, Va. – had never even seen a soccer match before coming the Abbey. Other standouts included captain George Desloge, Michael Daniels, Al Santoro, Don Betts, Luis Rodriguez, Pat Cunningham and Roy Crosse.
Farmer scored 11 goals and Betts seven to lead the Crusaders’ offense.
In the national tournament that was attended by more than 1,000 fans each day, Quincy, Ill., beat two-time defending champion Trenton State, N.J., 6-1 in the championship game and Gordon, Mass., College beat the Abbey 4-0 in the consolation match. Trenton State had beaten the Crusaders 4-1 in the semifinals.
After the national tournament, Daniels was named to the all-tournament team and Soden and Rodriguez were picked on the All-Southern team.
At the school’s athletic banquet in May 1967, Soden was given MVP honors, Cunningham and Crosse most improved and Betts the most outstanding freshman.
Belmont Abbey would go on to win 12 more NAIA District 26 titles – in 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1989, 1992 and 1993. And the school has won Conference Carolinas regular season titles in 1989, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999 and league tournament titles in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 2005.
Longtime school professor Stanley Dudko remains the winningest coach in school history with a 101-48-8 record from 1967 to 1976 while future NCAA Division I coaches Robbie Church (69-35-1), Ken Lolla (48-17-3), Paul Stahlschmidt (54-41-5) and current Tennessee Soccer Club executive director Stuart Brown (69-45-1) all have top records.
Church guided the Abbey to its next-highest national finish – tied for fifth – in the 1989 NAIA national tournament in Las Cruces, N.M.
Church’s star player, Chris Cook (1987, 1988 and 1989), is the only three-time All-American in school history; Other All-Americans have been Mosadek Soussi (1975), Bill Soussi (1975), Belgassem Soussi (1975), Kevin MacFarlane (1988), Patrick MacFarlane (1989 and 1990), Butch Uhouse (1989), Steve Pangalos (1990), Willie Files (1992), Vidar Petterson (1992), Christian Knudsen (1992), Oivind Ellingsen (1993), Tatum Borque (1994) and Billy Hjorth (1994).
Files is a former South Point High standout.