Dec. 5, 2008

Amy Farnum Novin

Creighton senior midfielder Andrei Gotsmanov is one of the top players in the nation on one of the best teams in Division I men’s soccer, but it was not so long ago that he was not even eligible to compete because of mistakes he had made in his academic life.

Gotsmanov was born to a soccer family in Belarus, where his father Serguie was a professional soccer player and the nation’s four-time player of the year.  He attended Woodbury High School in Eagan, Minn., where he was a two-time all-state selection, and then moved on to St. John’s University – one of the top collegiate programs in the nation.   During his first year for the Red Storm, Gotsmanov led the team in goals and points and earned Freshman All-America honors.  

But after that superb first season, Gotsmanov did not take care of his responsibilities in the classroom and had to deal with the consequences.

“He probably wasn’t as mature as he should have been, and didn’t go to class much the second semester there,” said Creighton head coach Bob Warming.  “Then, he basically dropped off the map.”

The rising star was out of competitive soccer, but he did return to school at a junior college in the Minnesota area and decided to try to get his academic life together.  As he focused on his academic career, Gotsmanov also found his way back to soccer.  Former Creighton player Brian Kallman, a high school teammate of Gotsmanov’s, told Warming the situation.  Despite Warming’s initial reservation about Gotsmanov, the coach gave him a chance to get back into a university and onto the soccer field.

“We did an academic recovery plan for him through the NCAA and he passed with flying colors, and just really convinced us he was very serious about going to school,” said Warming.  “He got into Creighton and has had a very good grade point average here as well.  It’s a great story because here’s a guy who screwed up and instead of letting it define the rest of his life, he said he messed up and wanted to do something about it, and he did it.”

Despite his talent on the soccer field, returning to competition at the Division I level in 2007 was tough physically, although he still found a way to play a key role for the Bluejays.  He was a second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference and second team NSCAA All-Midwest Region pick, and led Creighton with 17 points on the season.

“He wasn’t particularly fit last year,” said Warming.  “He still had a beautiful touch and great ideas, but going from playing pick-up soccer with his dad and other folks to trying to compete at this level was a big strain on his body.  He ended up with planter fasciitis in his feet and shin splints and every kind of pulled muscle you could imagine, so a year’s worth of training has done a world of good for him.  Now, he’s fit and can really play.”

This season, Gotsmanov once again leads the Bluejays with 24 points, and is the first Creighton player to score at least 10 goals in a season since 2004.  The MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist has sparked the Bluejays to a 16-1-2 record this year, and the team is an incredible 19-0-0 when Gotsmanov tallies an assist or goal in a match over the last two seasons.

“Andrei has the best soccer brain of any player that I’ve seen in college soccer in quite a while,” said Warming.  “In his decision-making he always sees two, three or sometimes four options.  Some players see one option.  Pretty good players see a couple options, but he sees three and four and sometimes five options very, very quickly.  Most of the time, he makes the right choice between all his options.”

Warming is proud of Gotsmanov’s accomplishments on the field – he’s also earned MVC Player of the Year and MVC Tournament MVP this year – but is happier to see his growth as a person.

“What he’s done on the field is terrific, but to see his maturation into becoming a great man with a real vision for the future for himself and getting his degree – that’s the real reward here,” said Warming.
Seventh-seeded Creighton will travel to No. 2 seed Maryland for an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal match-up on Dec. 6 as the Bluejays vie for their first Men’s College Cup appearance since 2002.