January 4, 2017

Bond Between Halliday Brothers Makes Difference As Tufts Men’s Soccer Wins 2nd NCAA D-III Title

PARTING SHOT: Zach Halliday, left, holds off a foe in action for the Tufts University men’s soccer team this past fall in its run to the NCAA Division III national title. Senior midfielder and co-captain Halliday, a former Princeton High standout, scored the game-winning goal in the national semis on an assist from his younger brother, Kevin, a junior midfielder for the Jumbos. (Photo by Alonso Nichols/Tufts)

Stumbling out of the gate with a 3-3-1 record this past fall, the Tufts University men’s soccer team didn’t appear to be on its way to a championship campaign.

For Zach Halliday, a former Princeton High star and a senior co-captain for Tufts, the sluggish play was a cause for concern.

“It was a bit scary when you get off to a 3-3-1 start, one of the assistant coaches pulled all of the seniors in,” said Halliday, a 6’1, 175-pound midfielder who helped the Jumbos win the 2014 NCAA Division III title.

“We had a chance to chat about what we thought we were doing well, what we thought we were doing poorly and how we thought we could help each other out to set the atmosphere that we could be successful in.”

Zach’s younger brother, Kevin, a 5’11, 180-pound junior midfielder on the Jumbos and former PHS star himself, thought he could help right the ship from the middle of the field.

“We lost Jason Kayne who was a big piece, he was our starting attacking center mid for four years,” said the younger Halliday.

“I was playing out wide to start the season and I talked to our coach (Josh Shapiro) and said listen I think I could do well there so give me a shot. I struggled in the beginning to get used to it. Towards the middle and the end of the season, everyone started getting used to their role on the team. I did the dirty work; that was how I decided to do it, to put my head down and run.”

The Halliday brothers helped the Jumbos go on a magical run to the NCAA Division III title as they won their second national crown in the last three years, edging Calvin 1-0 in overtime in the championship game in posting a final record of 15-5-2.

In Zach’s view, the tide started to turn for Tufts when it edged Brandeis 1-0 in late September.

“I think we picked up some confidence when we beat Brandeis in double OT,” said Halliday, noting that a 3-0 win over Amherst in early October was another confidence builder for the Jumbos.

“They were a team that beat us in our sophomore and junior seasons. They are always a really, really talented team with a great coach and a great coaching staff. Getting a win against them away on their turf in a night game, it was all of a sudden we realized we have a chance to compete with some of these higher level teams.”

The Jumbos, though, nearly didn’t get a chance to realize its title dreams as it suffered two losses to Bowdoin, falling to the Polar Bears 2-1 in the regular season finale and 2-1 in the first round of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) tournament. On the bubble for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament as they were in 2014 before their title run that season, the Jumbos were selected to compete in the competition.

“At that point we enjoyed our two weeks off,” said the senior Halliday. “We took the chance to enjoy being together and enjoy playing soccer. When we got that call that we had the second chance. It was time to dial back in and make the most of the second life and enjoy the opportunity to play on some borrowed time.”

Starting the NCAA tourney with a 2-0 win over a powerful Springfield team at Glassboro, N.J. got the Jumbos rolling, according to Kevin.

“That was huge because we had lost our past two games and we had two weeks rest,” said Halliday.

“We weren’t really sure that we remembered how to win, I guess you could say. We knew they were good, they were 18-1-1 and in a good conference so we were definitely nervous going in. It was something about being back in Jersey I guess.”

Buoyed by that triumph, Tufts pulled out three straight 1-0 wins, edging Rowan, Massachusetts-Boston, and Kenyon in succession, to advance to the national semifinals, a run that Zach attributes, in part, to the team’s 2014 title-winning campaign.

“We had 13 kids that were on the 2014 team that were also on this team; not everyone played a huge role but everyone had a chance to see the things that made us successful,” said Halliday.

“The attention to detail, the concentration on individual battles and the preparation that we had in 2014. All of the 13 guys coming back were able to show their experience, especially when we got into the later stages and got in some tough games.”

The Halliday brothers’ experience of playing with each other since childhood paid dividends in the semis against St. Thomas as Kevin assisted Zach on what turned out to be the winning goal in a 2-1 victory.

“Zach rarely finds himself on the offensive end; I saw a flashing white jersey and I served it to him,” said Halliday, recalling the pass to his older brother.

“I look up and I see it is Zach and it is oh goodness. He hits a shot. I could tell it wasn’t the shot he exactly wanted. We were all just standing there, is it going to go in and it just trickled into the net.”

For Zach, a scrappy defensive midfielder, finding the back of the net in that situation is a highlight of his college career.

“That was a pretty surreal moment,” said Halliday. “I wasn’t much of a goal scorer in high school but I still managed to find my way on the score sheet a few times. In college I have rarely scored; I had two career goals.”

The bond between the brothers helped make that tally possible, in Zach’s view.

“There is a level of comfort you develop with someone over so many years; Aidan Passannante (PHS teammate), Kevin, and I all had the same thing with the level of trust that you have, that you know they will be in the right spot and that helps you play a little better,” said Halliday. “When Kevin decided to come to Tufts, I couldn’t have been happier.”

Kevin, for his part, has been happy to get the chance to keep playing with his brother.

“Zach is a natural born leader in so many ways, he leads by example and by his voice,” asserted Halliday.

“He was the outright leader of this team and the general of the midfield. In more personal terms, he is my brother. Obviously it is nice to look around the field and still see your brother that you were playing with in high school.”

In the title game against a powerful Calvin team that brought a 23-2 record into the contest, Zach knew that the Jumbos would have to play with high intensity.

“Calvin was an extremely talented team, they kept us on our back heels but this team, more so than any team I have been on, had a certain level of grit and a certain mentality,” said Halliday.

“We were going to bend, we might bend a lot at certain times but there was a very slim chance that we were going to break. I think we showed that in the finals. We took on some water and took on some pressure but when the opportunity presented itself, we were able to get on the winning end.”

The winning tally in the contest came on a cross from Kevin to Tyler Kulcsar after 103 minutes of play.

“I finally hit a pretty good corner; we knew set pieces are a big chance for us to get a goal because we have bigger guys,” said Halliday.

“In NESCAC, the majority of goals come off of set plays and so we know how to battle in the boxes. When you get a corner kick in double OT, you are thinking alright this is it, get your big boys in the box. It was awesome.”

Winning a second national title was an awesome way for Zach to end his soccer career.

“It is pretty unbelievable even now to think that after 18 years of soccer dominating my life every day and every season and for the first time I am going to be without it,” said Halliday, who will be working for Fidelity Boston after graduation.

“In the moment, none of that struck me. All I could think about in the moment was how happy I was and how happy I was for the coaches. There are very few kids who are lucky enough go out like that in a career. I am so proud of our seniors and how deserving they are to get that opportunity.”

Kevin relished the opportunity to play a big role in the second championship campaign after appearing in just six games during the 2014 run.

“To be able to do it again as an upperclassman, it felt like I contributed more, not just on the field but the off field as well,” said Halliday, who tallied one goal and a team-high six assists in 2016. “It was awesome. It is something I will remember for a very long time.”

Now, Kevin is hoping to follow in his older brother’s footsteps again and write a memorable ending to his Tufts soccer career.

“The year after our first national championship, we tried to do everything the same exact way, we said the same speeches before the game, we repeated traditions,” said Halliday.

“The big thing is to recognize that you are a new team. We are losing Zach, we are losing our keeper and we are losing a lot of big pieces. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have pieces to fill them in. It is just to recognize this is a new team, we have to find a new identity and win in our own way.”