RIO GRANDE, Ohio — There’s only one way to top a national championship. Just win another one.
As University of Rio Grande men’s soccer coach Scott Morrissey wrapped up his 27th season in charge of the program, the RedStorm were busy celebrating the venerable mentor’s 425th career win after pulling off a 1-0 overtime decision over MidAmerican Nazarene University last Saturday in the NAIA Championship game in Florida.
A lot has happened during Morrissey’s tenure at URG, which most notably includes the program’s first national title in 2003. Morrissey has also guided the RedStorm to 15 straight NAIA tournaments, five semifinal appearances and three NAIA finals appearances, as well as 14 conference titles and eight NAIA regional championships.
When Morrissey accepted his current position in September of 1989, he noted that the only thing that ever wanted to do as a coach was win a national championship. Almost three decades later, he now has a ring for each hand — and he also has both a program and a university that are already aiding him in a quest for number three.
And, as he pointed out, none of this would be remotely possible without the backing of a lot of good people.
“I started here 27 years ago and my goal from the very first day was to win a national championship. We were fortunate enough to be able to do this in 2003, but to be perfectly honest that was nothing short of miraculous in how we were able to win the first one,” Morrissey said. “I also felt like after we won the first one, there was just so much more work to be done with building soccer in the community. There was just such a responsibility to elevate it to another level, and the support from the university has played a big part in our successes over the years. I owe a lot of this program’s success to the University of Rio Grande.”
The RedStorm finished the 2015 campaign with a 23-1 overall mark, with that one loss coming on October 3 during a 2-1 setback at Union College. URG went on to win the KIAC regular season with a perfect 6-0 mark and also claimed the KIAC tournament title headed into the national tournament.
Rio Grande opened the NAIA postseason by avenging its lone setback with a 2-0 victory over Union College, the first of four consecutive shutouts en route to the championship. URG also defeated Indiana Wesleyan University (3-0) and Missouri Valley College (1-0) in getting to the NAIA title game.
The RedStorm finished the 2015 campaign by winning a dozen straight matches while also compiling a perfect 16-0 record at home. Rio Grande was also 2-0 in overtime matches this past fall.
Morrissey acknowledged that he wasn’t surprised that this group ended up bringing home the big prize. In fact, he and his staff really thought this was a possibility from the opening day of the season. He also believes that last weekend will pay real dividends in the upcoming years.
“The one thing I will say about this group is that there wasn’t a single game that we played in that these guys weren’t ready, prepared and committed to the cause,” Morrissey said. “We did have the one blemish on our schedule, but even in that one loss the guys played terrific.
“We knew that this group was going to be special early on. We were able to put it all together and come away with the national title. It really does mean a lot to the players, the coaches, the university and the community. It’s certainly a bright light for both our program and our university moving forward.”
In returning back to campus Wednesday, Morrissey couldn’t help but share a grin while describing all of the wonderful feedback that he had received from anyone associated with the program. He noted that nobody has really had enough time to fully digest what has happened, but those thoughts should come to everyone a little easier over the next few weeks.
“It’s always special and a major accomplishment when you win a national championship, but to do it in the fashion that we did after netting a free kick in overtime with so much on the line … it was just a very surreal moment for everyone involved,” Morrissey said. “We’ve heard from a lot of former players and other coaches around the country, all offering kind words about our kids and our program.
“I’m pretty sure that none of us have come down from this thrill or even fully realized what we have done yet, but I’d say once we get the banner hung and the kids get some time away with their families over the holidays — it will all start to sink in. It should definitely be a pretty good holiday break for everyone involved.”
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.