AVON – You’ve seen the confetti fly and the players celebrate when your favorite team wins a championship. You watch them run into each the arms of each other, laugh and cry.
Minutes after they have achieved a season-long or a life-long achievement, they are asked what winning a championship means to them. How can they know?
A few weeks later, Avon’s Riley Strassner is still figuring out what winning a national championship means to him.
Strassner is a senior at Georgetown University and a member of the men’s soccer team that beat Virginia on penalty kicks nine days before Christmas to win the NCAA Division I national title. The Hoyas tied Virginia, 3-3 in the national championship game and won on penalty kicks, 7-6.
“It was wild. So many emotions,” he said. “You don’t really know how to prepare for it. It is slowly hitting me.”
Strassner won a state championship with the Avon High boys soccer team as a junior in 2014. He won a Class M title in swimming in the 200-yard freestyle.
“The gravity of the situation was so much bigger than our 30 guys (on the Hoya team),” Strassner said. “You’re playing for the alumni of the soccer team. You’re playing for the alumni of Georgetown as a whole. The game becomes a lot larger.”
After Georgetown beat Stanford, 2-0 in the rain in the NCAA Tournament semifinals, Hoya head coach Brian Wiese and his coaching staff collected the phones of the players so they could get some sleep and focus on the task of facing Virginia in a few days.
In 2012, the Hoyas earned a spot in the title game but got caught up in the emotion of the moment and never fully prepared for the championship game – a 1-0 loss to Indiana.
“We got hundreds of texts and calls wishing us luck,” Strassner said. The players got their phones back the next morning but they had the chance to reflect on the semifinal win, look forward to the title game and, most importantly, get some sleep.
“It was important to view the game as just a game,” Strassner said. “It’s just a regular game. 90 minutes. Let’s just play a soccer game.”
Strassner, who is majoring in Finance and Operations Information Management, started just one game this season but consistently came off the bench all year. Playing forward, he had his best year – statistically – as a junior with three goals and three assists for nine points.
He began wearing his contact lenses and it made a difference.
Strassner came close to scoring a few goals this year. In the semifinal win over Stanford, he nearly got his first goal of the season, beating a defender to the ball and popping the ball into the net. But he was a step offside. He had two other potential goals nullified by offside calls this year, too.
With a strong freshman class and two transfers joining the team this year, Strassner and his teammates knew changes would need to be made. For him, it was coming off the bench. “We made sure we knew this would be about sacrifices,” he said. “We formed a family and a brotherhood.” The Hoyas went 20-1-3 and won their third straight Big East championship before making their run to the NCAA championship.
“I was sad that my collegiate career was done,” Strassner said, recalling the moments after the Hoyas won their national championship. “I was so proud and so happy I was there. There were a lot of tears and smiles.”
For the first time in years, Strassner’s path in soccer is undetermined. He played three seasons with the Hartford City Colts in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) out of West Hartford. He is not sure if he will pursue playing soccer in the U.S. or Europe. Or he could begin his career after graduating in June.
“I’ve always been a restless kid. I’ve played soccer for 13 or 14 years,” he said. “I don’t know if I can say goodbye to it that quickly.”
He is grateful for the growth he has gotten at Georgetown – as an athlete and student. “The coaches did an incredible job molding us as gentlemen,” Strassner said. “You learn a lot about yourself when you put yourself in a pool of 30 guys just as good as you are.”