For Zach Halliday, competing in soccer beyond high school has been on his radar for a while.
“I was thinking about college soccer, starting in the sixth or seventh grade,” said former Princeton High star Halliday.
“I played for PSA (Princeton Soccer Association) and I moved up to PDA (Players Development Academy). It was more intense and competitive, things really started heating up for me at PDA.”
The heat was on Halliday last August as he looked to earn a spot on the Tufts University men’s soccer team.
“I did have to walk on, that was a little stressful,” said Halliday. “When I got into Tufts, I sent the coach (Josh Shapiro) a note telling him I got in and he invited me to preseason. There were 28-29 guys and only 25-26 spots.”
Once on the field with the Jumbos, Halliday showed his trademark hustle and intensity.
“We came in and had the fitness test, only three of the eight freshman passed and I was one who passed,” said Halliday.
“It helped my confidence; it was also the first time we saw coach. I play center mid and we have a lot of players who are technically skilled at that position. I brought a different level of work rate and a willingness to do the dirty work and make the tackles that others may not want to.”
Halliday’s work paid off as he made the squad and achieved his long-held goal.
“It took a big weight off my shoulders, it is something I have wanted to do for a long time,” said the 6’0, 160-pound Halliday. “I was able to play looser, I wasn’t stressed as much, and I tried things I wouldn’t do before.”
Halliday didn’t have to wait long to make his college debut as he saw action off the bench in a 3-0 season-opening win at Bates.
“That was really fun, we were up 2-0 and there was five or 10 minutes left and coach gave me a chance,” recalled Halliday, who ended up playing in seven games and making four starts as Tufts went 8-5-2 and advanced to the NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) quarterfinals. “I got a good run and I got my foot on the ball. It was a good feeling to know that I could play at this level and I knew then that it is going to be a fun four years.”
Halliday got his first college point with an assist in a 7-0 win over Suffolk in the second game of the season and then made his first college start in a 1-0 loss to MIT on October 16.
“We had lost to Connecticut College the game before and the coach chewed us out,” said Halliday, reflecting on his first start.
“We had a players-only meeting and aired some things. We needed players willing to break plays and play with an edge. Coach told me I was starting. It was great. I was super nervous but after the first few minutes, I started feeling good. I knew I wasn’t in over my head.”
In assessing his debut campaign, Halliday said the most important lesson he took from the fall was that success comes when the players are all on the same page.
“You need to buy in together, there has to be a sense of camaraderie and not just individuals playing for accolades,” said Halliday, noting that the Tufts squad includes former Princeton Day School stars Max Hoppenot and Rui Pinheiro along with Princeton resident Peter Lee-Kramer. “You have to buy into the system your team is abiding by.”
This fall, the Tufts squad will get a boost to its camaraderie when Halliday’s younger brother, Kevin, a high-scoring forward for PHS, joins the squad.
“It is exciting to play with Kevin; we are training together and it’s fun to know we are working for the same goal and same fitness test,” said Halliday.
“I can’t wait to play with him. We started on U-8 when he played and my dad was the coach. He has been a big part of my soccer life.”
PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe credits Halliday with being a big part of his program’s success over the last four years.
“We had been tracking him since the sixth grade over at Cranbury and we knew what a quality player he was,” said Sutcliffe, noting that Halliday helped PHS win two state titles during his career.
“He showed up in the summer before his freshman year when we have games with alumni against current players and he stood out immediately. He had this vitality and ability to inspire even as a freshman and that got better and better over the four years.”
Sutcliffe is not surprised that Halliday made an impact in his debut campaign.
“He’ll take nothing for granted,” said Sutcliffe. “His ability to work hard on both sides of the ball separates him from other players. I am so proud of him, he’s a special player. We were fortunate to have him for four years.”
In Sutcliffe’s view, Tufts is very fortunate to be getting the 1-2 punch from the reuniting of the Halliday brothers.
“I think it is going to be great,” said Sutcliffe. “Kevin was on the short list of their top guys. The staff is lucky to have both of them.”
Halliday, for his part, believes Tufts has what it takes to be one of the top teams in the NESCAC this fall.
“I am looking to build on the end of last season when I was starting,” asserted Halliday, who will be heading to preseason camp in mid-August with the team slated to open its 2014 season by hosting UMass-Boston on September 3.
“I want to help us win any way I can, whether as a starter or as a role player. We have a lot of talented players; I think we can make waves in the NESCAC and NCAA tournament. It is a good group; coach Shapiro is a great coach.”