Davidson College soccer started well before its first varsity season; sons of foreign missionaries in East Asia brought soccer, to them football, to Davidson, beginning a lasting tradition. In 1935, the recorded beginning of the sport, students played pick-up games. The college provided balls and shabby uniforms, but left players to find cleats and other accessories. The college did allow the players to scavenge for old football cleats that were purchased for offensive lineman several years earlier (Kerr 1). The team played against area schools such as Furman, High Point, Clemson, and Duke (Madden).
In 1942 men’s soccer became an intramural sport, but stopped shortly thereafter due to the USA’s involvement in World War 2. During this period, many students left campus because of the draft or renewed patriotism. Over ten years after the war, in 1956, the Director of Athletics, Dr. Tom Scott, reinstated soccer at Davidson College by gaining entrance to the newly formed NCAA (Tarr 1).
The first year, however, was a disaster with the ‘Cats only winning one of their five scheduled games. Fortunately, things started to change in 1958 when Dr. Paul Marotte, a professor and a gifted coach, brought the Wildcats their first winning season. This season started the upswing of Davidson soccer, which continues through the present day with a winning record of 369-362-51 (Madden).
In the first four years of every decade, the soccer team has done phenomenally, but in the latter part of each decade, the ‘Cats seem to struggle, with only a handful of wins over the years. The end of the ‘60s exemplifies this trend with the ‘Cats showing only one winning season. This, however, was quickly turned around in 1970 and 1971 when the Wildcats won two Southern Conference Championships in a league that had become Davidson soccer’s new home only two years previous.
The middle and late ‘70s were another hard time for Davidson soccer, with a cumulative record of only 13-39 in the last three years of this decade (Lanoka). But a new era was on the horizon with a legendary coach, who truly transformed Davidson Soccer into the elite program it is today.
Over Charlie Slagle’s twenty-year tenure as Head Coach, he won 209 games making him the winningest coach in Davidson College history. He also brought the team three more SoCon championships (1983, 1994 and 1995). These successes eventually lead to Slagle’s first Division I head Coach of the Year award (Madden). Charlie Slagle retired in 2000 with a record of 209-202-31 (Lanoka).
During Slagle’s years, the most exciting season in Davidson’s 43-year history was the ’92 season and the team’s trip to the NCAA final four. In this season, lead by two-time All American Robert Ukrop, the Wildcats had an incredible record of 17-5-5 and received a bid for the NCAA tournament that was held, ironically, at Davidson College (Madden). The ‘Cats won their first two matches, but lost their third game to the University of San Diego in the semi-finals (Balestier 1). In 1995, the soccer team, again, had a chance to go back to the NCAA tournament, but this time fell short to Bowling Green in a tough 3-1 loss killing the hopes of a return to the most prestigious tournament in college soccer (Madden). The final four was held at Davidson from ’92 until ’94 when the small Richardson Stadium could not hold the growing popularity in the sport.
Robert Ukrop is to date the most extraordinary soccer player ever to come out of Davidson College, leading the league in 1992 with thirty-one goals, and 10 assists, a stunning 72 points on the season. He earned such titles as All American, All Southern Conference, and All South (Ukrop). He was later drafted by the New England Revolution, a major league soccer team, where he prospered (Madden).
Under Coach Matthew Spear, following Slagle as head coach, the ‘Cats continue to succeed: in his first two seasons his combined record is 21-14-4. Spear played for Davidson College in the early 90s and loves the tradition of this sport; he motivates his team to win and has the opportunity for a third winning season in a row.
As Spear explains, “Davidson has a rich and storied history. It is our right and duty as a coaching staff and a team of talented, dedicated players to cherish the past while ever expanding the legacy.”
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Author: Eric Peterson
Date: October 2003
Cite as: Peterson, Eric,
“Soccer” Davidson Encyclopedia October 2003 <https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/college-archives-davidson-encyclopedia/page/soccer>