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XULA falls 1-0 in first-ever NAIA men's soccer game

The match marked the start of men's NAIA competition for the 97-year-old Catholic HBCU, and the first collegiate soccer team in New Orleans since 2006.

Junior Gold Rush midfielder Leonardo Menzen battles with William Carey's Jair Arita during Tuesday's regular-season debut of the new men's soccer team for Xavier University of Louisiana. (Chuck Cook)

The Xavier University of Louisiana Gold Rush held their own in their first-ever regular-season men’s soccer game, a 1-0 loss on Tuesday at #9-ranked William Cary in Mississippi. The Crusaders won the tight match with a goal in the 74th minute.

The game marked the start of men's NAIA competition for the 97-year-old Catholic HBCU, and the first official collegiate soccer team in New Orleans since 2006. Men’s soccer has not been played at the college level anywhere in the city since 1985.

Tuesday’s loss looks to be fuel for improvement for the upstart XULA side, which is anchored by South American-born underclassmen.

“It's heads up, continue working,” XULA head coach Gonzalo Carranza said after this week’s game, speaking of the respectable performance against a top-ranked team. He cautioned, however, that the team must remain hungry.

“I hope I don't sound too positive. This isn't good enough. We want big things.”

The two teams remained scoreless through halftime of the match, played at Danny Owens Field in Hattiesburg, with XULA’s goalkeeper Breno Zanolla guarding the net efficiently. The Gold Rush sophomore had three saves on 15 shots, four of which were on goal. 

An early second-half red card for XULA spelled doom, however, forcing them to play a man down for the rest of the match.

A late William Carey goal from Jamie Wynne sealed the deal for the Crusaders, who are coming off of a winning 2022 season that featured a trip to the NAIA National Championship finals group. The win against XULA brings them to a record of 2-1-1 for the year.

Xavier, which announced its first-ever soccer teams last fall, began men’s preseason play in August with an exhibition game at home against Jones College, where they triumphed 4-0 before facing LSU-Eunice in an upstate matchup. There, they fell 2-0, though Coach Carranza spoke optimistically following the match.

“We're a brand-new program trying to get better and move up,” he said, portending his comments this week in Mississippi.

Announced alongside the men’s team, XULA women’s soccer also debuted this week, playing a home game at Lafreniere Park in Metairie, Louisiana, against #7 Tennessee Southern. The Firehawks triumphed over the Gold Nuggets 5-1, coming off a strong 2022 season like their respective men’s team.

The two new teams for Xavier are part of a sports renaissance at the small Louisiana institution, which famously eliminated all sanctioned sports teams in the mid-1950s, following the death of school foundress (and primary benefactor) St. Katharine Drexel

Now, as the school approaches its centennial, it has recently re-added men’s indoor track and field and baseball, and launched new softball and cheer teams—with the latter winning the school’s first-ever athletics championship in 2022.

“Xavier supports the complete development of our students; thus, we are constantly expanding offerings, both in and out of the classroom, that allow students to explore their interests and advance their skills,” said President Reynold Verret last fall.

Both XULA soccer teams will travel next week to play a fellow Catholic school in Spring Hill College on Wednesday, September 6, with the women kicking off at 1pm CT and the men at 3:30pm. They will play their Red River Athletic Conference openers at home on Thursday, September 14, against the University of the Southwest at 1pm and 3pm, respectively. Admission to Lafreniere Park is free.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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