September 3, 2010

Cape Town: Summer home to D-III players

By Jay Weiner

This is not a joke, although it begins like one ...

Three U.S. college juniors walk into a once-glorious colonial mansion in Cape Town, South Africa.

The trio hail from three different D3 liberal arts colleges -- one from the East Coast, one from the Midwest, one from the West Coast.

One says to another, "What do you do?"

Another says, "I play soccer."

The third says, "Funny, I do, too. I'm the center back on my college team."

The other two scratch their heads and exclaim, "So am I!"

In early January, on Rhodes Avenue, in the shadow of the University of Cape Town, Macalester's Nate Juergens, Pomona-Pitzer's Eben Perkins and Swarthmore's Gage Newman each arrived as part of their colleges' study-abroad consortium called "Globalization and the Environment."

From top to bottom: Perkins, Juergens, Newman
Juergens photo by Jay Weiner

They were housed in the now frayed-at-the-edges mansion. These accidental roommates didn't know each other and had never heard of each other's soccer exploits.

But Juergens was the two-time all-MIAC first-team defender for Macalester, which got to the second round of the D3 soccer NCAAs in 2009. Newman was the second-team all-Centennial Conference defender for Swarthmore's NCAA Sweet 16 tournament squad in '09, and Perkins was the Player of the Year in the SCIAC for Pomona-Pitzer, the '09 conference champs.

At first, Perkins said, "I just thought it was cool. But now I realize it's pretty ridiculous the three of us ended up together."

And it wasn't real pleasant for the University of Cape Town intramural opponents they faced, or for the neighborhood kids who challenged them in 5-v-5 games down at the playground known as "The Cage."

The co-ed intramural team they played on was called the "Mangbros," because Newman was a mango fanatic. They won the UCT championship.

In "The Cage," winners kept playing. Losers had to wait their turn until a team lost. Juergens, Newman and Perkins won a lot and played a lot. Despite their defensive positions back home on campus, the three center backs generated lots of offense.

"I don't know if it's something buried deep down in a center back's subconscious," said Perkins, "but we all played quite offensively to the point where sometimes defense didn't really exist."

Perkins spoke of Juergens's "cannon of a right foot" and Newman's "deft touches." Juergens said, "The three of us definitely had chemistry on the field." Newman said Perkins would "whip in crosses" and Juergens would "rip strikes."

Off the field, the three found common interests. Newman, the psychology major, and Juergens, the biology major, would perform rap together and write songs. They would also share "belly flop sessions" into their mansion's swimming pool after Cage games. Perkins and Newman traveled around Africa after the semester ended and were able to stay for some World Cup games.

Perkins, an environmental studies major, found Newman and Juergens to share split personalities: "laid back" at home, "fierce competitors" on the field.

Juergens called Perkins "relatively mature" and Newman "hilarious."

Among them, they fantasized that somehow Swarthmore, Pomona-Pitzer and Macalester will make the NCAA D3 Final Four this season. That's likely the only way any of their teams could meet on a field after a special South African adventure.

"It's possible, but I'm not going to hold my breath," said Juergens, who added: "If we were to play against each other on the soccer field I would be glad they are defenders so I wouldn't have to maybe hack them."

One other thing: Down Rhodes Avenue from the Juergens-Newman-Perkins mansion in another house lived a fellow named Harrison Watkins. Yep, he's the first-team all-NESCAC and all-New England center defender for Middlebury. He occasionally played pickup with the other three in The Cage.

"Wow," said Newman, "I guess every liberal arts school sent their center back to South Africa to learn a couple things."

Among the lessons: Friendship, education and international travel make D3 soccer special.

No contests today.
No contests today.
No contests today.