The 2021 season was a pivotal one for the Tufts men’s soccer program. It was the first season played under Head Coach Kyle Dezotell, who was hired in March 2020 after the Jumbos won their second consecutive Division III National Championship ― their fourth in six seasons ― under former Head Coach Josh Shapiro.
Seven Jumbos from the 2018 and 2019 National Championship teams ― Calvin Aroh, Mati Cano, Derek Enge, Max Jacobs, Biagio Paoletta, Alex Ratzan and Travis Van Brewer ― found ways to extend their NCAA eligibility during the COVID-19 pandemic so that they could compete in the 2021 season.
Aroh and Van Brewer both stressed that having one final fun season with the soccer team was their main reason for delaying their graduations to play for the Jumbos.
“I felt like my college experience itself wasn’t really over,” Van Brewer said. “I think the pandemic took away some of the appeal and the fun activities of senior year, so I was really looking forward to being able to come back and have a transition phase where I could enjoy my last year.”
The Jumbos appeared to pick up where they had left off in the 2021 season, as the team won their third NESCAC Championship in program history. Tufts also made an appearance in the NCAA Elite 8, where they narrowly lost 5–4 to Connecticut College, who later went on to become the NCAA national champions.
The expected graduation of the aforementioned seven Jumbos, however, leaves a bit of uncertainty heading into the 2022 season with regards to whether the team will be able to sustain the high level of play that they’ve consistently displayed over the last several seasons. New and existing players will be thrusted into bigger roles, which is an inevitable truth for every college sports team, but it will no doubt be a challenge for the Jumbos to replace some of their best and most decorated players in program history. Coach Dezotell’s leadership and coaching style will also have a greater impact on this team than before, as a group coached by Shapiro for three years departs.
We’ll have to wait until this fall to begin finding answers to these questions about the men’s soccer program. Until then, let’s get to know Coach Dezotell and two of the graduating players whose partnership in the center of midfield formed the backbone of the 2021 team ― Aroh and Van Brewer.
From an early age, Dezotell achieved outstanding success in a wide range of athletics. In high school, he earned National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Gatorade Vermont Player of the Year in soccer and was a state and New England champion in Nordic skiing. He subsequently competed as a student-athlete on the Middlebury College men’s soccer team from 1999 to 2002, where the Panthers won the inaugural NESCAC Championship in 2000 and Dezotell was selected to the All-NESCAC first team in 2002. Today, he still holds the record for most career goals and is tied for second in career assists in Panthers’ program history.
He became an assistant coach for the Division II Saint Michael’s College men’s soccer team in 2003, following his graduation from Middlebury, and landed his first head coaching job at Division III Johnson State College, now Northern Vermont University, a year later. He later had Division III head coaching positions at Norwich University (2006–15), Manhattanville College (2016) and Ithaca College (2017–19) before joining Tufts.
Dezotell explains that he values coaching Division III soccer because student-athletes get to play the game they love but are also able to pursue their other interests, something he experienced while playing soccer for Middlebury.
“I think there’s 10 to 15 of us that are in college soccer coaching that graduated from Middlebury,” Dezotell said. “I think the common thread for many of us that have gone into coaching and certainly for me, is we all loved our college soccer experience at Middlebury College and with our coach, and it was fun being part of those teams.”
In addition to setting high goals for his team, Dezotell also wants fun to be a primary motivator for his athletes.
“I also thought it was really important with this group, who had such high expectations and so many guys who came back for an extra year, … that we tried to have as much fun as possible because if you’re just going out there and the only goal throughout your whole college soccer season is to try to win the national championship, then that’s a really burdening feeling,” Dezotell said. “We truly value having fun and make certain that it’s an intentional part of our program.”
Fun, of course, isn’t the only ingredient in Dezotell’s recipe for team success.
“I value the relationships much more than I value the tactics of a soccer game,” Dezotell said. “I’m [also] just a big believer in having really high standards and expectations.”
Tactically speaking, Dezotell’s coaching style stresses the importance of creating offensive opportunities from playing good defense.
“Whether you’re a striker or a midfielder or a defender, you’re going to defend if you want to be a part of our team and get on the field,” Dezotell said. “We really value the pieces of the game like transition. I think transition moments are hugely important.”
Under Dezotell, Aroh and Van Brewer both had standout seasons in midfield in 2021. Adding six goals and three assists to his ability to dominate possession in the center of the field, Aroh earned NESCAC All-Conference first team honors for the second consecutive season and United Soccer Coaches All-American first team honors for the first time in 2021.
For Aroh, he believes he has gained more confidence as a player while at Tufts, as well as more awareness of where he needs to be on the field during games.
“In certain games, it would be me staying back and defending, and in certain times, I could be more of a player playing forward,” Aroh said.
Van Brewer started all but one game for the Jumbos in 2021 and netted five goals and three assists on his way to NESCAC All-Conference first team honors, after earning NESCAC All-Conference second team honors in 2019.
Aroh graduated in December 2021 from the School of Arts and Sciences with a major in economics and a minor in entrepreneurship. He’s now working as an associate for an accounting firm and their advisory group in New York City.
Van Brewer graduated summa cum laude in May 2021 from the School of Engineering with a major in civil engineering. He will also earn his master’s degree in civil engineering this spring as part of the school’s combined degree program. He will work in Boston as an associate for EY-Parthenon, a software strategy group, following his graduation.
Dezotell praised both Aroh and Van Brewer for their contribution to Tufts men’s soccer.
“Guys like Travis Van Brewer and Calvin Aroh don’t come around very often,” Dezotell said. “Those are just special talents in Division III.”
The two players will also take valuable lessons from the men’s soccer program with them into life after college.
“I like how Tufts men’s soccer has just been a pretty level playing field regardless of grade,” Van Brewer said. “Just in life and moving forward, especially in the workplace, where I’ll go from being a senior to sort of lowest on the totem pole, it’s a good lesson just that anyone can contribute and just to look for opportunities to make an impact anywhere you can in life.”