LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For four years, Jason Sangha has been a member of Lynn’s Fighting Knights men’s soccer team.
And for four years, he’s been both a team captain and an All-American. Sangha was the Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year four years ago, and the central defender was recently named its Defensive Player of the Year.
Yet those are individual honors, and the native of Southampton, England is a team player if ever there was one.
Incredibly, Lynn has been one of the last two NCAA Division II teams still standing in three of Sangha’s four years with the school.
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The Fighting Knights wound up second in the nation his freshman year, then won it all the very next season, in 2012. After downing Quincy 4-1 here on Thursday in the semifinals, Lynn will take on Charleston (W.Va.) Saturday at noon in the national championship contest.
That’s what truly counts, the big trophy.
“They say you do need a lot of luck, but I feel like each team needs to make their own luck,” Sangha said. “That’s very, very important. You need a little bit of luck to happen, but we’ve made our own luck.
“Being a national champion is one dream, and to do it again, it would be another dream come true again. It was probably the best experience I’ve ever experienced within soccer. To do it again, it would mean the world to me.”
They say that luck is nothing more than the point at which preparation meets opportunity, and that’s certainly been the case for Lynn so far in 2014. A year after failing to make the NCAA national championship tournament, the Fighting Knights won both the conference regular-season championship as well as the conference tournament.
Comparing this team with the 2012 championship squad is next to impossible due to the players who have moved on due to graduation, as well as the incoming new classes. Regardless, one of the very best qualities of this year’s team is that all-important tangible — chemistry.
It’s a roster made up of players from France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Mexico, Denmark, Italy, Argentina, Iceland, Austria and Barbados, as well as Sangha’s own England and the United States. Despite such wide-ranging geography, their captain is proud of how they’ve been able to play as one solid, cohesive unit.
“The key thing that’s got us here is team chemistry,” Sangha said. “We’re not a bunch of American players. We have a completely different team chemistry. We just get along so well. It’s hard to find that. I find that very unique, because all of our players are from all over the world. Most teams, you don’t really get that. It’s very rare, and that’s probably key.”
If the team’s top quality is chemistry, Sangha’s best is character, according to head coach John Rootes.
“Obviously, he’s an outstanding player being a four-time All-American,” Rootes said. “But he is a leader, too. He leads by example by the way he plays and the way that he does everything. He’s got great character. He’s a great player, but he’s a better person.”
Recruiting that kind of player has been a part of Rootes’ strategy since he took over the helm in March 2008, becoming just the fourth men’s soccer head coach in school history. As diverse as his pool of players might be, recruiting quality people has always been the one common denominator.
To build trust, Rootes has even gone so far as to spend days on a high-ropes course. It’s the kind of thing that’s not for the faint of heart, but if it puts Lynn one step closer to its ultimate goal, then so be it.
“When we recruit kids, character is a real big component,” Rootes explained. “We really work hard not to bring in kids that are talented players but are jerks, to be honest. We really test the kids that we bring in. We start from Day 1.
“Everything we do is designed to build the team spirit. What we have to do is get everybody to trust one another, and break down the barriers between them to where they’ll put the team first before themselves.”