Some day they will no longer be teammates or collegiate soccer players, but that day can wait. Such dynamics have been a fact of life for Matt Schultz and Isaiah Shaddick, friends who grew up in the same Lincoln neighborhood and attended the same preschool, middle school and high school. They’ve shared in each other’s highs and lows and together helped the Concordia University Men’s Soccer program win the 2022 GPAC tournament title.
In the afterglow of the championship on an icy cool night in Hastings, Matt and Isaiah embraced one another with a celebratory hug and posed for photos as the Schultz and Shaddick families made their way to the playing surface. For the two seniors, this was quite the way to go out – or not.
Explains Schultz, “I was probably the one who decided first. I’m not really sure what did it for me, but I realized I had the opportunity to come back and I would never get that chance again. After what we did last year, we all became so close with each other that I wasn’t ready to let it go yet. I went to Izzy and asked him, and he was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know.’”
Well here they are, back with their fellow Bulldogs for spring training sessions. And there they were recently taking on Creighton University in a spring exhibition contest that was much more competitive than some would have anticipated. Both Second Team All-GPAC honorees in 2022, Schultz and Shaddick are high-impact players and leaders within Head Coach Jason Weides’ program. Schultz the defender and Shaddick the forward performed their roles superbly during the ’22 campaign that finished with a 15-3-3 overall record and a spot in the national tournament.
Schultz and Shaddick will follow the path taken by other recent program starters like Carlos Orquiz and João Pedro Veríssimo in extending their collegiate careers (the NAIA did not charge athletes with a season of eligibility during the 2020 ‘COVID’ season). Those who have chosen this option in recent years have had no regrets. Shaddick says he talked to those other senior statesmen when making his own decision. This is what feels right.
“We’re ecstatic about having them back for a fifth year,” Weides said. “We were hoping they would choose that, but it’s ultimately their decision. We didn’t put any pressure on them, but we were happy to take them back if they were ready to. They fit our culture and are a piece of our culture. I think they’ve been influential in creating that over their time here. They have really fit that Concordia mold and are examples of how there are highs and lows in a career. It’s okay to have setbacks once in a while. They’ve been able to overcome those situations and have really developed.”
Just like when they arrived at Concordia in the fall of 2019, the Lincoln Southwest High School alums are a package deal. It’s not that they had necessarily planned it that way. Shaddick entertained a number of options after he was named the Nebraska Prep Player of the Year by the Lincoln Journal Star. On the other hand, Schultz had previously believed his soccer playing days were over once high school graduation came. However, Weides saw plenty of potential in both prospective Bulldogs through the recruiting process.
Concordia ultimately made a lot of sense for both. Shaddick was the first to make his commitment and Schultz soon followed once he realized he wasn’t ready to give up on athletic competition. Having each other to lean upon allowed for a smoother college transition.
“Matt’s been around since I can remember,” Shaddick said. “We’ve always enjoyed being on the same team and hanging out. When I made the decision to come to Concordia, we spoke a little bit. He decided to come play here as well. When I found that out, it made me happy. I was just coming here by myself originally, which I was fine with, but it was nice to have a familiar face here that I had grown up with.”
Their continued companionship sometimes takes them back to the days when they were in the same class at Wee Wisdom Christian Preschool in Lincoln. Schultz and Shaddick hooped it up on the basketball court as youngsters, but soccer was the game that captured more of their attention. Their obsession with the sport paid off in the spring of 2019 when they guided Lincoln Southwest, coached by Derek Scheich, to a district title and state playoff appearance.
Recalled Shaddick, “One of my favorite games I remember was playing Grand Island for the district final. We ended up winning it 3-0. While we were playing, it felt like we were little kids again. We were just enjoying the moment. That one will forever be a memory stuck in my mind.”
It’s safe to say they’ll also never forget the date Nov. 11, 2022, when Concordia rallied back from a 2-0 deficit to force a penalty kick shootout for the GPAC tournament title at Hastings. The scene turned into a pandemonium when Federico Simonetti’s save clinched the championship trophy. Once again, they reverted back to childhood. Schultz and Shaddick will forever be linked to one of the most thrilling moments in program history.
“I guess it didn’t really hit until afterwards,” Schultz said. “After Fedi saved that penalty, we were just like, ‘Woah.’ I think we had won one tournament in our lives – one big tournament. We hadn’t won a state tournament or a league championship. We felt like we were playing for more than just us. We were playing for the university and all the players who came before us. It felt like they deserved that moment too. We joke about it more than we talk about it.”
Added Shaddick, “It still hasn’t become real yet for me. It was such a euphoric experience. Guys from the past were reaching out and congratulating us and saying how proud they were. It’s incredible seeing how tight of a community it is, even once people go.”
Of course, Schultz and Shaddick were surrounded in celebration by their strong support system. Matt is the son of Tim and Jennifer Shultz and Isaiah is the son of Nate and Heidi Shaddick. Those are two parent groups that don’t miss many games. Collectively, they have embraced all members of the team as if they are a larger family – the Concordia Men’s Soccer family.
Says Weides, “The Shaddicks and the Schultzes are among the best and most supportive families we’ve had involved in our program over the years. They’re at almost every away game, whether it’s in Oregon or just a couple hours away. They’ve been really generous with their time and their financial support. They are the type of people that will host some of our guys over Thanksgiving, Christmas or spring break and provide a meal. I think they’ve almost adopted some of the guys who are from far away. It’s not a surprise that Matt and Izzy are great fits within our team. You see where they come from. Their families are great, and it’s been an awesome extension of our program.”
Matt can’t help but joke when it comes to the familial support of the Bulldogs. Says Schultz, “Our families are crazy sometimes. They’re like GPAC fans of the year. They travel to every game. They’re the super fans. My parents were even saying, the future can wait.”
For Schultz and Shaddick, the immediate future will include graduate classes and another shot at winning a GPAC regular season title and perhaps advancing farther at the national tournament. They both say they have no trouble finding the motivation for another offseason of lifting, conditioning and skill work.
“My competitive juices are still there,” Shaddick said. “I want to keep striving for more. It would be a great thing to go out and win a regular season title. That would be fantastic.” Schultz understands that the expectations will be as high as ever for the program. “Playing Creighton this spring and Keiser at nationals last year, I think we realize we’re not too far behind,” Schultz said. “We’re going to have a good team that’s capable of going way farther.”
So be it. Let’s run this thing back. Schultz and Shaddick are back for another round. As Shaddick continued, “It’s an opportunity that most likely no one else will get after us. I wanted to take advantage of that. Being here for four years and knowing the program and the culture we’ve built up as a team, I wasn’t ready yet to call it quits.”