Sept. 7, 2000
By Jane E. Pater
Listening to Greg Tait speak about the way in which his collegiate soccer career seems to have taken off during the last few days, one would think that he was used to all this attention. He is able to maintain his poise and respond to questions with the ease of a veteran who has seen his name up in lights more times than he can remember.
It’s hard to believe that the sophomore goalkeeper saw only 35:30 minutes of playing time during his first season at Notre Dame. After that quiet introduction to the collegiate level, Tait’s performance last weekend at the UNLV Fila/Snickers Rebel Classic in Las Vegas, Nev., turned up the volume a few notches. His nine saves in 210 minutes of play against New Mexico and UNLV earned him the honor of being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Combine that with the BIG EAST’s Goalkeeper of the Week award, and you’ll see how quickly he’s made an impact for the Irish.
In reality, Tait has never sparked this kind of a craze before, even while he was leading his high school soccer team, Christian Brothers Academy, to its only undefeated season in history and earning all-city, all-conference, and all-state honors as a senior. Although it would be quite easy for the 6-3 native of Fayetteville, NY, to be distracted by the attention, he has managed to keep everything in perspective and to take things one day at a time.
“I’m excited about all of this,” he says. “It hasn’t happened to me before, but it’s not really overwhelming. My main concern is continuing to play well. All the attention has actually pushed me harder.”
Finding inspiration to work harder has never been a problem before for Tait. Throughout high school, his main goal was to prepare himself both academically and athletically for a soccer career at a Division I school. His hard work and efforts on the field, earned him a spot on the East Olympic Development Program’s squad during his junior and senior years in high school. Along with the opportunity to train with elite American athletes, the honor enabled him to spend 10 days in Paris in the summer of 1998 and 10 days in Paris and Switzerland during the summer of 1999. The competition he encountered there provided additional incentive to work on his skills.
“To see guys my own age playing at such a high level really opened my eyes to how good I could be,” Tait recalls.
Playing at that high level is exactly what Tait had envisioned for this season. Before the season started, the team spent a week at a training camp in St. Joseph’s County in Michigan. The camp enabled the team to free themselves of the distractions that campus life entails and to focus solely on soccer. Through triple sessions and intense workouts, the team melded together and honed the skills that they had worked on throughout the summer.
While he was there, Tait considered his goals for the season. As the only goalkeeper on the team who had seen any playing time a year ago, he recognized the potential that the season brought with it. One of the goals he set was to earn BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Week honors. “Here it is the first week of the season, and I’ve already earned it,” Tait smiles. “To be honest, getting accolades at the collegiate level is the culmination of a lot of years of hard work.”
Upon his arrival at Notre Dame, Tait found another player who would continue to inspire him to achieve. Competing for the same position is Cole Straub, a 6-1 sophomore from Oakville, Ontario. The two share a very unique relationship: best friends, roommates, and teammates. Many people wonder, however, how they are able to stay so close even though the success of one means that the other will be on the bench.
“It’s common for people to ask how we are doing, even the closest of our friends,” Tait says. “Cole and I are best friends, and we both really respect the relationship that we have. We’re supportive of each other, and we want what’s best for each other. He’s my best friend and I look to him for everything.” The bond has helped them push each other harder in drills, work on strategy off the field, and improve their games more than they would have been able to without that kind of link.
It also helped Tait work through the transition following the loss of Coach Mike Berticelli, who died of a sudden heart attack last January. As Chris Apple took over the head coaching responsibilities in the following months, Tait wondered how things would change.
Tait smiles as he recalls, “Coach Berticelli had become like a second father to me. He’d say things just like my dad. I would always joke that I was far away from home, and I still couldn’t get away from my dad’s way of thinking. He was the closest person I’d ever lost. I felt privileged to work with Coach Berticelli, and Coach Apple is doing a phenomenal job now.”
Under Coach Apple, the Irish have started the season with a 1-1-1 record following Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to #21 Bradley University. Prior to that game, the Irish defense had not allowed a goal to score in a regular season game, including a double-overtime shutout against UNLV. After adding five saves to his stat chart, Tait’s appreciation for playing behind defenders senior Steve Maio, freshman Greg Martin and sophomore Andy Forstner is evident.
“I could not have been happier with the defenders I have playing in front of me right now,” he says. ” The young players on this squad have given the team an extra surge of energy for the start of the season, but our inexperience probably hurt us in the game against Bradley.”
However, learning from mistakes is all a part of the game, though.
“We’re trying to improve a little bit everyday,” Tait says.
If he has a few more days like he did last week, that little bit will add up to a lot. The maturity he exhibits in his dealings with his friends and teammates foreshadows some of the leadership characteristics demanded of a goalkeeper. In any case, Greg Tait’s soccer career at Notre Dame is just beginning.