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CLERICUS-NAC May-19-2009 (690 words) xxxi

Undefeated North American soccer squad heads to Clericus Cup finals

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- The Pontifical North American College's undefeated soccer squad is heading into the finals of the Clericus Cup tournament.

A 4-3 shootout win May 16 over last year's champions, the Legionaries of Christ's Mater Ecclesiae, qualified the North American Martyrs for the May 23 championship.

The Martyrs will face the 2007 champions -- the Neocatechumenal Way's Redemptoris Mater team -- in the final match.

Victor Ingalls, a third-year seminarian from Montgomery, Ala., credits the Martyrs' semifinal win with players "being in good shape and being able to keep up with (Mater Ecclesiae's team), because they're so fast and quick with the ball that we knew our defense would be a big part of the win."

"As Americans we're not technically the best soccer players, but we've trained really hard this year to be in good shape," the 24-year-old theology student told Catholic News Service May 19.

Ingalls said the Martyrs' Australian goalie, Gannon Jones, "had a phenomenal game," blocking two shots on goal during the shootout, "which gave us the win."

This is the first time in the Clericus Cup's three-year history the Martyrs have made the finals.

Ingalls, who plays stopper, said this year's team was strong because it has built on the experience and successes of previous years. The Martyrs made it to the quarterfinals in 2007 and the semifinals in 2008.

Ingalls said team members made an extra effort to attend their two-hour, twice-a-week practices, and many sacrificed their few free weekends to stay in town to play the Saturday matches.

"Everyone was willing to put in a little bit more this year," he said.

The soccer tournament for priests and seminarians studying in Rome was created in 2006 to be an example of ethical sportsmanship and fair play in the hopes it could influence a wider world of sports often marred by violence and exploitation. This season 386 men from 69 countries competed on 16 different teams. Players range in age from their early 20s to late 50s.

The league uses a unique "sin bin" blue card system. The penalty for receiving a blue card, issued in addition to the standard yellow and red cards, is a five-minute timeout. The blue card -- shown to players who get carried away and need time to cool down -- provides a way to help ensure that the contests are played in the proper fraternal spirit.

This season, the Clericus Cup incorporated a "third half," a time for prayer for both teams after the completion of two 30-minute halves of play.

Ingalls said he has always been involved with sports and joined the seminarian soccer squad as a way to stay grounded during his first year at a new college in a different country.

"Especially in (the) seminary I feel (sport) brings a good healthy balance to the rhythm of prayer and study that we're involved with day in, day out," he said.

He said the Clericus Cup has benefited not just the players, but other seminarians at the North American College by bringing the men closer together and giving "a sense of cohesiveness to our own community."

The weekly matches have given the men "a great outlet to show support for each other and to do something as a community," he said.

One group of students goes around every week posting pictures taken at the latest game and putting up fliers reminding college members to attend the next event.

To drum up fan enthusiasm and show some patriotism, he said, "a bunch of guys also chipped in and bought a Captain America suit, a full-body suit with muscles and everything," for the semifinal match.

Ingalls said he is confident the Martyrs will play well in the finals because "we haven't lost a game yet and it's a unique opportunity for us; we have to believe we can do it before it can become a reality."

He said his mother and younger sister will be cheering from the sidelines because they will be visiting Rome.

"We will have the mom power on our side, which is always a factor that can't be overlooked," he said.

END


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