Chestertown’s Taiwo aboard for historic ride to Final Four

CHESTERTOWN — The Shoremen are playing this afternoon in their first-ever NCAA Division III men’s soccer semifinal.

In other words, Washington College is in the Final Four of 415 Division III schools across the country that have men’s soccer.

“It’s a very exciting experience and it all feels surreal,” senior midfielder Mayowa Taiwo told The Evening Enterprise in a text message yesterday.

Taiwo is a “local” — grew up in Chestertown and was a triple-threat athlete (soccer, indoor track, lacrosse) at Kent County High School.

He’s not a headliner, say like All-American defender Chris Comber, who has played all 2,000 minutes for the 15-2-5 Shoremen, or senior net-minder Anthony Pinto, who has a 0.68 goals-against average.

Taiwo has appeared in 14 matches, logging a total of 240 minutes — all off the bench.

In the big scheme of things that’s not that big, some would argue.

But when we dissect Taiwo’s time on the pitch, we see how “big” every second can be.

In the Nov. 19 Elite Eight contest against No. 7-ranked Connecticut College, the 2021 national champion, Taiwo had just entered the match — a mere 31 seconds to be exact — when he took a shot that led to what held up to be Comber’s game-winning goal in a 1-0 thriller.

The time elapsed from when Taiwo came on to the pitch and Comber scored, putting back the rebound of Taiwo’s shot that was saved by the Conn College keeper, was 53 seconds.

That’s big!

He played a career-high 62 minutes in the match.

That’s big too! 

All told this season, Taiwo has scored only one goal and taken only six shots, three on frame. His first shot of the season on Oct. 21 produced his first and so far only career goal — what held up as the insurance goal in a 2-0 victory at Muhlenberg as the Shoremen tightened their grip on first place in the conference.

He’d like to play more.

Who wouldn’t.

But he appears to have a healthy mindset.

“I see my role on this team as someone who can bring high energy and good vibes into the team dynamic and someone who can also boost team morale when needed,” Taiwo told The Evening Enterprise in yesterday’s text message.

He added: “I also bring explosive energy when on the field but my role as a positive role model for the younger guys on the team also extends off the field as well, whether that is always staying positive or uplifting everyone’s mood and making everyone laugh.”

Following the 1-2-1 exhibition season of 2020 — the COVID season — the Shoremen embraced the return to sports “normalcy,” winning the Centennial Conference, automatically qualifying for the NCAA Tournament and advancing to the round of 16.

Taiwo appeared in 11 matches with one start for that 15-5-1 squad.

“In our 2021 season two years ago when we won the conference and made it to the sweet 16 that was the best feeling in the world and I never thought things could get better than that in those moments till this season,” he wrote in Thursday’s text.

“This season we are making more history and we hope to put Washington College on the Map!!”

Taiwo said he believes that what makes the 2023 squad special “is the culture that our leaders and everyone on the team has built over the years. When you have a team of 33-34 players who are all bought into the same goal and are fighting for each other everyday great things are meant to come,” he told The Evening Enterprise.

“One of my favorite things about this team is that we know when to have fun and we know when to as our coaches would say ‘flip the switch’ and get into game mode.

“I believe that our ability to have fun while playing the game we love while also playing with high intensity has been a factor in the success of our team,” he said.

Taiwo was an outstanding athlete at KCHS, possessing speed, strength, smarts and field awareness. His MVP sport was indoor track; he received Coach’s Choice awards in soccer and lacrosse.

He also was a National Honor Society member and student government leader.

When considering his college options, and looking at Washington, “it wasn’t even to play soccer,” Taiwo said.

“Then things lined up in my favor and I was able to get the amazing opportunity of walking onto the team. When I walked on I didn’t really know how good our team was but when we started training and I got to know our team dynamic I learned that we were going to be a very good team!

“Our team has been striving to get to where we are today and thanks to the leaders on the team we were able to speak it all into existence,” he said.

Roy Dunshee is in his 12th year as the Shoremen’s head coach.                                                                                                                   *******

TODAY at 3 p.m., No. 18-ranked Washington will face off against No. 11-ranked St. Olaf of Minnesota in the first match of the Final Four doubleheader.

You can watch the match live at www.washcollsports.com/sports/mens-soccer/schedule

St. Olaf advanced to the national semifinals for the first time in program history with a 2-1 win at the University of Chicago, the defending national champion, in the sectional final Nov. 18.

Washington & Lee and Amherst will play in the second match at 6:30 p.m.

The championship match is noon Sunday, Dec. 3.

Roanoke College in Virginia is the site.

Washington (15-2-5), whose only two losses are to Centennial Conference champion Johns Hopkins, received an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney.

Of the other three national semifinalists, Washington & Lee (16-4-4) also received an at-large bid, while New England Small College Athletic Conference champion Amherst (17-2-3) and Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion St. Olaf (18-3-3) gained AQ berths.

 

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