PHS Alum Ratzan Stars For Tufts Men’s Soccer, Helping Jumbos to 2nd Straight NCAA D-III Title
TOUGH TO STOP: Alex Ratzan, center, controls the ball in action this past fall for the Tufts University men’s soccer team. Former Princeton High standout Ratzan helped Tufts win its second straight NCAA Division III national title. Junior midfielder Ratzan scored a team-high seven goals as the Jumbos posted a final record of 20-2-2. (Photo by Anna Miller/Tufts)
By Bill Alden
The Kansas City Chiefs enjoyed a championship celebration last Sunday night after they defeated the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in the Super Bowl, dousing Coach Andy Reed with a bucket of Gatorade and cavorting all over the field as they waited to accept the Lombardi Trophy.
Former Princeton High boys’ soccer player Alex Ratzan knows the championship feeling twofold as he helped Tufts University men’s soccer team win its second straight NCAA Division III national crown this past December.
For junior midfielder Ratzan, the thrill of winning the title is unforgettable.
“It felt amazing; it definitely felt a little different than the year before,” said Ratzan.
“Everything just kind of fell into place. We had given so much to this year and had worked so hard. We were playing our best soccer by the end of the year. It was a great feeling.”
Ratzan has put in a lot of hard work to reach that point, beginning with adjusting to the rigors of college soccer as a freshman in 2017.
“You get to college and preseason in mid August and, for us, going into early December, you are committing three to five hours everyday to playing soccer, getting better, tactical stuff and working with the team,” said Ratzan, who scored two goals in 20 appearances that fall.
“On the field, I would say the speed of play and physicality and your fitness are challenges. It is not easy, there are very few guys on our team, if any, who play a full 90 minutes.”
In his sophomore year, Ratzan faced a big challenge, getting derailed by a hip injury.
“I got unlucky coming out of freshman year, I had surgery in the spring on my hip,” said Ratzan.
“I was out for six months, preseason was pretty much the first time I was touching a soccer ball again. I came back and was feeling alright. Instead of going out to practice, you are in the training room, doing your PT exercises, getting your cardio in, trying to stay in shape. As long as the season is going on, you never know when you are going to have to come in and make an impact.”
Battling back from that injury, Ratzan was able to make an impact in postseason play, seeing action as Tufts won the D-III national crown, nipping Calvin 2-1 in the final to complete an 18-0-3 campaign.
“For me that turned around the whole season; I played a few games at the beginning of the year and then got hurt,” said Ratzan, who had an assist in 11 appearances as a sophomore.
“When I was coming back, I wasn’t really expecting to play that much, having been out for that long. But I got a couple of appearances in the tournament; I played in the Elite 8 and I also played in the national championship game. With that, you feel everything come together, all of your hard work, all of your hardship, it pays off. You still have that ring, you still got to contribute. It was a great experience.”
Coming into the 2019 campaign, Ratzan was primed to make a much bigger contribution for the Jumbos.
“I was feeling healthy after my sophomore season, I was proposed to have another surgery on my hip,” said the 5’9, 165-pound Ratzan.
“I didn’t think I could do that so I just worked really hard in the offseason to strengthen it. Fortunately things went my way; I healed up and came into the season in good shape and ready to be more of a contributor.”
Things started to go Ratzan’s way early in the season as he scored a pair of goals in a 3-1 win at Keene State on September 11.
“I found myself in the box two minutes apart,” recalled Ratzan. “I was just sniffing out goals and that is what happened. I was hanging out around the six and the ball pops to me and I was alright I will pass it in. That definitely got stuff rolling. Any goal gives you confidence and getting two relatively early was nice.”
Emerging as a scoring threat off the bench, Ratzan ended up with a team-high seven goals on the season.
“I am always in between playing forward and winger, I have no real preference,” said Ratzan, who also picked up five assists to lead the Jumbos with 19 points.
“I have kind of been that way my whole life. If I am in the attack, I am in the attack. The whole front three are unbelievable guys. We have some really impressive players and then the next three who are coming off the bench — me, Mati Cano, and Max Jacobs were not far off. We push each other, we keep going at it. As subs, it was never a hit on confidence; it was just our time and let’s go in and do some damage.”
The Jumbos had a tough time in early October, going 0-2-1 with losses to Babson and Amherst and a tie with Hamilton.
“That was a big-time wakeup call for us; we were sorting out our formation,” said Ratzan.
“Our play was breaking down, we weren’t doing what we were used to doing. Our coach [Josh Shapiro] really let us know, it wasn’t an ability thing it all, it was just communication between our classes. It was getting the seniors to take responsibility, getting the juniors to take responsibility and communicate with the whole team what we are about and what we are trying to achieve.
Catching fire from there, Tufts never lost again in 2019, getting battle-tested by a run to the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title.
“The NESCAC tournament is great preparation, it is such a physically demanding league with so many game go into OT,” said Ratzan, reflecting on a tourney which saw Tufts edge Middlebury 2-1 in the title game.
“The teams are not necessarily evenly matched but physicality-wise, any team can compete. There are great battles that really do prepare you for when you see a random opponent in the NCAAs.”
Surviving some tough early round contests in the NCAA tournament, posting 2-1 wins over WPI and Washington and Lee, the Jumbos defeated NESCAC foe Connecticut College 3-1 in the quarters to make it back the Final 4.
Back in Greensboro, N.C. for championship weekend, Tufts was ready to take care of business.
“One thing that I really like about our team is we are serious when it gets down to business but we also have a good time,” said Ratzan
“We are very confident, we joke around so much. It is a fun group of guys. We knew what we were there to do. We were just going to have fun and do our best. We knew we were there to win.”
In a 4-0 win over Calvin in the national semis, Ratzan enjoyed one of the best moments of his career, scoring a highlight reel goal in the victory.
I was playing on the right side; I am a right footed player, everyday after practice, I am taking my shots, right footed, left footed and from different angles,” said Ratzan, who also had an assist in the game.
“I got the ball on the right and beat the defender inside and had an open space. I saw the keeper cheating to the far post and I smacked it with my left foot to the near post. That was a great goal, that was my best college goal for sure and one of the best goals in my life. It was a direct product of hard work, putting yourself in the right spot and having the right mentality to go for it.”
Getting a rematch with NESCAC rival Amherst in the championship game on December 7, Ratzan and his teammates were ready to turn the tables on the Mammoths.
“We are in the finals; that game is all that matters, there are no repercussions,” said Ratzan.
“We really, really wanted another shot at them. They are such a good team individually. They have some extremely good players. The main guy we knew about was German Giammattei, their striker with 26 goals this year. We knew we had to clamp him and we had a lot of pressure on him and we did a great job of getting the ball away from him and doing our work going forward. We really didn’t let off the gas.”
Picked up an assist, Ratzan helped Tufts earn a 2-0 win as the Jumbos finished the fall with a 20-2-2 record.
“I was struggling with a hamstring problem,” said Ratzan, recalling his helper.
“In the second half with about 15 minutes left. I served in a cross and Max Jacobs cleaned it up and finished it nicely.”
For Ratzan, the second national title had a special meaning since he played a greater role than in 2018.
“Having not had as much of a chance the previous year, I always think about it if I have an opportunity like that ahead of me I am going to do my best and work as hard as I can,” said Ratzan.
“If I am out there and it is a big game, I am going to show my ability. I am going to try something I might not try in a normal game but with confidence that I know I can do it. It is just giving everything to the team in the end. It does feel a little different when you know you have been a significant contributor.”
Looking ahead to his senior campaign, Ratzan is confident that the Jumbos will be in the title mix, even as they deal with the challenge of playing for a new coach with Shapiro having recently moved on to Harvard.
“We have the talent; we have a lot of players that have won two national championships,” said Ratzan, who is studying abroad in France this semester and plans to train with teams there.
“There are some really exceptional guys in my class. We will be able to head the team in the right direction.. I think we are going to come into the year strong. There are only so many teams who can compete for the national championship and we will be one of them next year.”