SAN ANTONIO — According to his players, Ohio Wesleyan coach Jay Martin has given so much to them that they could hardly find a way to repay him.
The current version of the Battling Bishops found the way to say thank you for all their soccer alumni by making Martin the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men’s soccer with their 2-1 victory against Calvin in the final of the Division III men’s championship on Saturday night.
The record book will show that Blossom Stadium in San Antonio was the site when Martin earned his 608th career victory to surpass Joe Bean, who won 607 matches at Qunnipiac, Bridgeport and Wheaton (Ill.) from 1962-2006.
Martin, 62, never wanted the attention of his team’s run to the title to be focused on his accomplishment, but the way his players mobbed him at the conclusion showed it was a motivating factor. Even after receiving their awards, Martin had a hard time putting it all in perspective.
“I’m having a hard time with this,” Martin, who has guided the Bishops for 35 seasons. “It means I’m old and have been coaching for a long time. It means we’ve had some great players at Ohio Wesleyan that have allowed us to be consistent.”
This is Martin’s second national title, joining the one the Bishops captured in 1998. That team lost six games but still took home the crown. This year’s team finished 22-2.
“Believe it or not I haven’t scored a goal in 35 years,” Martin said. “I’m proud that I’ve done something that no one else has. That’s pretty cool.”
Amazingly, the milestone moment would not have occurred in the national title match had the Bishops not been upset in the finals of the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament.
“We could foresee the potential of reaching,” senior defender Andrew Miller said. “It has been a magnificent experience to be a part of this. Throughout his career, he’s accomplished so much. He’s done so much for us on and off the field, and this is one of the best presents we can give back to him after four years here.”
Senior forward Travis Wall, who scored the game’s first goal in the 38th minute, added: “You couldn’t write a better ending to a story and have us win a national championship and him becoming the all-time winningest coach. All child book authors out there should look to Jay Martin for some stories.”
Two minutes after Wall’s goal, sophomore midfielder Paulo Bucci scored on a shot from the left wing that curled into the upper right part of the net.
“My teammates give me a hard time because of my shooting,” Bucci said, who was credited with an assist on the first goal. “I’m not known as the best shooter. I was able to put it where I wanted for once in my life.”
Calvin, 19-5-2, never panicked despite trailing 2-0 at halftime. They came out and applied pressure immediately. The Knights were rewarded when freshman Travis Vegter scored in the 50th minute with a left-footed shoot from the top of the box.
“The momentum really changed,” Vegter said, who scored twice for Calvin in the semifinals on Friday. “Being down one goal put us so close. We had so many chances to put the tying goal away. I can count about five times where it was 50-50 on whether one of our shots could’ve been a goal.”
In the end, Ohio Wesleyan was able to hold off all of Calvin’s attacks.
“With 10 minutes left, I kept thinking, ‘Why do you do this?’” Martin said. “When I stop being competitive, I will be out of here. I measure a successful season by how much fun I had coaching. I’ve had more fun with these guys than any other team than in the last 15 years.”
That personality helped Ohio Wesleyan overcome two of their team vans being robbed on Wednesday about 30 minutes after the team left the San Antonio International Airport. Laptop computers, clothes, uniforms, wallets and other personal items may never be recovered.
The Bishops were determined not to let being victims of crime be the lasting memory of their trip to the Division III men’s soccer finals site. A look at the smiles on the faces of the Ohio Wesleyan players showed they had moved on to better times.
“I did not want this season to end,” Martin said. “But this is a pretty good way to end it.”