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Dec 12, 2017 12:47 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

East Hampton Graduate Nick West Helps Messiah College Win Its 11th Men's Soccer National Championship

Dec 12, 2017 1:17 PM

Nick West knew when he made the decision to attend Messiah College that he’d be following in his brother’s footsteps. He just didn’t know national championships would come along as well.

West, a 2015 graduate of East Hampton High School, played a large role in helping Messiah win this year’s Division III men’s soccer National Championship in a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over North Park on December 2 at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro Soccer Stadium. It’s the Falcons’ 11th national title in program history, all of which have come since the turn of the millennium in 2000. West, a junior, was named Offensive MVP of the tournament, with three goals and three assists in six games.

West was one of the best players ever to come through East Hampton. He left as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 58 career goals, and in his senior year was named a Newsday All-Long Island player, while also earning All-County, All-State and All-Region honors, in addition to being chosen for the MSG Varsity All-Metro Second Team. The Bonackers went all the way to the New York State Class A Championship that year and West tallied both goals in what was the first ever Long Island Championship for the program.

West’s older brother, Brandon, a 2011 graduate of East Hampton, won back-to-back national titles with Messiah in 2012 and 2013 as the team’s starting goalie. It was on his brother’s college visit that Nick West realized he wanted to attend Messiah as well. Nick said that his older brother has been one of his biggest supporters and welcomed him into the “ring club” after the most recent national championship victory.

“I do look up to him a tremendous amount,” Nick said. “He’s someone who has pushed me throughout the years to be the best I can be.

“I think coming in to Messiah I was a little naive in thinking it would not be so hard to win a national championship, but I was very wrong,” he continued. “That had been something Brandon told me a lot about ... national championships are dreams, they’re not just tangible goals you can achieve because you play for one of the best teams in the country.”

West admitted he learned that the hard way just last season, when Messiah had basically the same team it had this year, only it had National Player of the Year Jacob Bender as well. The Falcons were expected to be one of the best teams in the country, but they were upset in the Sweet 16 in a 2-1 double overtime loss to Calvin College.

West is familiar with championship heartbreak. During his senior year at East Hampton, he suffered a broken foot in the state semifinal game and couldn’t play in the state championship, which the Bonackers wound up losing to Greece Athena. But he says once those heartbreak-like games are over, they become distant memories, ones that he doesn’t dwell on.

“That’s how the NCAA tournament goes, if you don’t show up to play you will lose,” West said, who also added that at Messiah, the school follows a philosophy laid out by legendary UCLA men’s basketball head coach John Wooden, who believed in chasing excellence rather than success. “When you are chasing excellence, you expect nothing but the best every time you step out there to practice or play in games,” West said. “Every game turns into a big game so when you get to the a NCAA Final Four, you address it the same way you would the first game of the season. Our coach often says, ‘If you are striving for excellence, every once in a while you will brush up against success.’”

Brandon West graduated from Messiah in 2014, the year before his brother joined the team, and stayed on as an assistant coach with the program for two more years. He’s now the head coach of the women’s soccer team at Eastern University in St. David’s, Pennsylvania.

“To watch that senior class get to win as well was awesome,” Brandon said, pointing out that he was teammates with this year’s seniors when they were freshmen. “They would have been one of the first classes in a while not to get one had they not won,” he explained. “It was certainly special getting to play for the same program because I know the impact it had on my life.”

Messiah went 25-2 this season, with just one regular-season loss (2-1) to Haverford College in the third game of the season back on September 6, and a 2-1 loss to Lycoming College in the Middle Atlantic Conference Championship on November 4. Even with such a disparity between wins and losses, West said it was an extremely tough schedule that prepared the team for its playoff run. Each one of the Falcons’ victories in the NCAA Tournament were by one goal, except for a 2-0 victory over the University of Rochester in the national quarterfinals. A 3-2 double overtime victory over Brandeis University, in which Messiah had to come back twice, pushed the Falcons to the national championship.

“It’s awesome, it’s something you never forget and you can’t really put into words,” West explained. “But the journey to get to where we were is what I’ll remember the most and I think those experiences actually outweigh winning the national championship. In the first round of the tournament we were playing in Buffalo and we took one of the days to go to Niagara Falls and it was just those type of things that I’ll remember most.”

“I think winning the national championship is awesome, but it isn’t what this program is about,” he added. “The culture of talented young men who have great character, who are willing to buy into our core values, are the reason this program continues to compete at the highest level.”

Messiah is already preparing for next season, which will be Nick West’s final one with the team. The team has already started practicing indoors and is playing Futsal, a smaller condensed version of soccer that is typically played indoors during the offseason.

“It was cool to get a day off and let everything sink in, catch up on some school work,” West explained, “but three days after winning the national championship we were back to work. I think everyone realized that it took everything to get to where we were this year, so we’re going to try and replicate that and prepare ourselves.”

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