Members of the 2017 Concordia men’s soccer team didn’t want their record breaking season to end. Fortunately, the Bugeaters FC came to be in nearby Lincoln, Nebraska. The new United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) team that announced its launch in December 2017 quickly became a haven for Bulldogs, including several 2018 graduates who just wanted to keep playing.
Said Luke Batters, an essential member of the standard setting Concordia squad, “If I get an opportunity to play soccer, I’m going to take it.”
Batters and Bulldog teammates Jack Bennett, Aries Fung, Marcelo Hernandez, Micah Lehenbauer and Lewis Rathbone each donned the Bugeaters kit this past summer. Their efforts helped produce a record of 9-5-3 in the inaugural season for the Bugeaters. The first goal in the team’s history came from Hernandez while Bennett tended goal for the team’s first ever shutout.
A fan favorite at Bulldog Stadium, Rathbone, who hails from Manchester, England, went on to be voted the team’s “Supporters MVP” in a poll that included Batters and Bennett. Clearly, the Bulldog-Bugeaters connection was beneficial for everyone involved.
Said Batters, “It was great to play with some of the boys one last time before a few of us part ways and do our own things. The Concordia men's soccer program is my adopted family and it's always hard leaving it behind.”
At times during this summer, it probably felt like it did back in the fall when Hernandez, Lehenbauer and Rathbone were peppering the back of the net during the winningest season in Concordia men’s soccer history. But instead of starring at Bulldog Stadium, head coach Jason Weides’ collection of stars entertained fans at the Bugeaters home turf at Beechner Athletic Complex on the campus of Lincoln High School. They also traveled to play in places such as Des Moines, Iowa, Kansas City and St. Louis.
The rewards went beyond the victories and accolades. Said Hernandez, “The reward is always to meet new people. I have played soccer 20 years of my life and they are the happiest years of my life, with incredible experiences and unforgettable friends.”
Additionally, the Bulldog standouts past and present introduced themselves to a group of new fans in Lincoln, where soccer has seemingly been gaining traction. Rathbone was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere that greeted the team for its first game at Lincoln High.
“I can’t praise the fans enough from Lincoln,” Rathbone said. “They were absolutely fantastic, especially with it being our first season. I will always remember our first game. They entered the stadium, chanting for the team – and with flares. It was crazy.”
Not only did Rathbone and company familiarize themselves with new fans, they also became teammates with rivals from schools such as Hastings and Midland. Through this experience, the group of Bulldogs proved it belonged alongside the top college players in the area. Faced with stiff competition, players like Rathbone thrived.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s the GPAC championship game, a backyard scrum or a UPSL match, these Bulldogs want to compete with the best. That’s the type of attitude that was needed to earn playing time for the Bugeaters.
In summing up the competition, Rathbone says, “The difference between college and summer leagues is that you are bringing in all the best talents from the best local colleges, so the competition for a starting position was a little harder. Everyone is dying to play during the summer to make sure they are ready for their college season.”
Hernandez and Rathbone both hope the opportunity with the Bugeaters leads into the next big thing. Hernandez plans to begin playing professionally in Guatemala in January, saying, “As long as there is passion in my heart and happiness in my thoughts I will continue playing soccer until my legs say enough.” Meanwhile, Rathbone has aspirations of playing at the “next level.” On the other hand, Batters is looking forward to spending the upcoming season as an assistant on Weides’ staff. For Bennett and Fung, there’s still one more collegiate season left to play.
Says Bennett, “I came back and got a starting spot (with the Bugeaters). I think I became a better player for it. It’s good to get those touches in before the season starts. Hopefully that will show come the start of the season.”
If nothing else, the summer of 2018 gave rise to an extension of a thrilling 2017 Concordia men’s soccer campaign while kick starting the Bulldogs-to-Bugeaters pipeline.