By Jamie Timbrell '06
Former Bearcat Jon Schatz ('85) called it the best soccer team he was ever on as a player. Teammate Brian Clearman ('86) said the camaraderie was the best he has ever seen.
They were talking about Willamette's 1982 men's soccer squad – a team that went 15-4-0 and won the NAIA District II title.
"It still remains the hallmark of my collegiate athletic career," Schatz said. "It was just one of those teams that you will always remember. I am just happy I was able to be a part of this great team and special group of guys."
It was Brad Victor's second season as head coach and the third year as a varsity team. The team's success led to a growing fan base and enabled it to play home games at McCulloch Stadium, instead of at Wallace Marine Park as in the past.
"That year was when Brad started to turn it around," Bill Jackson ('85) remembered. "We did a lot more training. My freshman year you just showed up. When Brad showed up we started to do work."
From the very start of the season, the players knew something special was in the works.
"It was one of those rare occasions in life where the right personalities came together and everyone really cared about one another and each individual put the team ahead of himself," Schatz said. "Everybody was friends. That extended beyond the field. As a younger player, that team pushed me on the field but also had high expectations for me off the field in the classroom. The team demanded certain behavior of me as a student-athlete and as a representative of the soccer team."
In late August, Coach Victor scheduled two-a-day preseason workouts. With the thermostat soaring into the mid-90s, the team worked on developing its strong point -- its speed -- through an extensive conditioning regimen.
"Brad was a great conditioning coach. He was just learning the game of soccer, but he knew how to get us in shape and he allowed the leaders to lead," Schatz said. "He was smart enough not to get in the way of the upperclassmen leading the team. He did a great job in managing the group and his coaching record speaks for itself (12 years, 130-85-19, .623)."
The practices and conditioning paid off as Willamette had one of its most prolific scoring seasons ever. The team set a Bearcat record with an 11-game winning streak. In the midst of that streak, the Bearcats also set a single game scoring record when they beat Linfield College 11-0.
In that game, for the second year in a row, Bruce Higbie ('83) and the Linfield goalkeeper collided, both times breaking the same leg on the astronomically unlucky goalie.
Jeff Johnson ('88) and Higbie, two of the fastest forwards in the league, led the scoring. Johnson was later selected All-NAIA District II, as well as goalie Joe Wells ('85) and defender Jim O'Neil ('83). Johnson, Wells and midfielder John Hitchman ('84) were named All-Northwest Conference. Victor was chosen NAIA District II Coach of the Year.
Freshman Clay Arkless ('86) was well on his way to joining them, with 10 goals through the first few games of the season, until he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). While he was hospitalized, the team regularly trekked to Portland to visit Arkless at St. Vincent Hospital.
"Perhaps this instilled more desire and passion for us to win," O'Neil speculated.
As the season was coming to a close, the team needed to beat Northwest Nazarene to win the NAIA District II championship. Ten minutes into the second half with the scored tied at 1-1, O'Neil received the first and only red card of his entire playing career.
"What was refreshing was not one teammate gave me a bad time about it or called me out or let it affect their play. I think that was a defining moment of our season," O'Neil recalled.
Instead, playing a man short, the team picked up the slack and pulled out a crucial 2-1 victory. With 25 minutes to go, senior Chris Hall ('83) sent a perfect chip pass over a wall of defenders to a sprinting Clearman, who kicked the ball in for the winning goal.
The season concluded a couple weeks later when the team was eliminated from postseason play by eventual national champion Simon Fraser University. The Bearcats' exploits, however, have not been forgotten. Over the years, the team's ties to Willamette have grown as well.
After graduating, Schatz coached the Willamette junior varsity men's team for a year and then moved over to help coach the women's varsity team for four years. Hitchman was the head coach of the WU women's team in 1984. Clearman's son, Cole ('14), recently spent two seasons playing soccer for the Bearcats. Many of the players remain close friends even after thirty years.
Looking back at the 1982 season, Schatz explained, "The lessons we learned on the athletic field directly translated to our personal lives and into the business world. In particular, it taught us discipline as well as a never-quit attitude."
Note: Willamette began competing in men's soccer as a club team in 1967, playing such schools as Oregon, Oregon State, Portland, Lewis & Clark, Southern Oregon and Pacific until it became a varsity sport in 1980. As a club team, Willamette played games at Bush's Pasture Park (fall) and McCulloch Stadium (spring).