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In Pursuit of a Goal
Editorial Note: This article ran in the Flames Illustrated football game day program on Oct. 18 (Lafayette game).
After being one of several key players on Liberty's first-ever Big South Championship men's soccer team last season, defender Mike Gelatt thought his soccer playing career was over. Gelatt had planned to finish his kinesiology degree, with a pre-med curriculum, in four years and advanced to another phase of his life. However, head coach Jeff Alder had different ideas.
"When I started my schooling, I was planning on getting my degree in four years and then moving on in my life," stated the Indianapolis, Ind., native. "However, I had to take additional classes and wasn't going to complete my degree in the four-year time frame.
"Coach [Alder] asked me to come back after our NCAA Tournament first round game, and I thought it was a great opportunity I couldn't pass up."
One of two team captains this season, Gelatt is a stabilizing factor for both the Liberty defensive unit and the young Flames, as a whole.
"Not only me but the rest of the upperclassmen, we want to help our newcomers adjust to college soccer and college life," said Gelatt. "I know when I came in as a freshman, I had a hard time adjusting, and that hurt my ability to perform the way I know I could have.
"The adjustment from high school to college is a huge step. Our new guys have the skill for it, and I see it as my responsibility to help them make that jump.
"We need to keep the standards of our program high in areas such as work ethic. I want to have my play be an example of what is expected of a Liberty Flames soccer player."
A fixture of the Liberty men's soccer program over the last five years, Gelatt bounced back from injuries early in his career to start all 48 Liberty contests over the past three seasons. Along with fellow middle defender Douglas Nyame, the pair has made it difficult on opponents in recent years.
Last season, during the Flames' run to their first-ever Big South Championship, the redshirt senior was a key member of Liberty's defensive unit, which posted nine shutouts and ranked No. 29 in the country with a 0.45 shutout percentage. As a team, the Flames posted a 1.07 goals-against-average, while recording a 13-5-2 mark and earning their first NCAA Tournament appearance. The squad's 13 victories are the second-most by a Liberty team in program history.
"Winning the Big South Championship last season was really a great experience for me," remarked Gelatt. "There was a large group of us who had started with the program four years earlier, and to be able to share that with them was pretty special.
"We didn't really have any standout superstars, but our whole team was unified in what we were trying to do. Everyone knew their role and stepped up when needed.
"The Big South Championship had a couple of crazy games, as we came from behind in two of them. Our confidence and unwillingness to give up was amazing."
And while, Gelatt relishes in team accomplishment, the defender also earned many individual honors last season. He was named to both the Big South all-conference and VaSID all-state first teams for the first time in 2007.
However, the most impressive accolade the defender earned last season was being named to the 2007 ESPN The Magazine Men's Soccer Academic All-America first team. Gelatt is one of only five Liberty student-athletes to have ever been named to a CoSIDA NCAA Division I National Academic All-America first team and is one of 14 of the school's student-athletes who have been selected to one of the organization's Academic All-America teams.
"When I made the Academic All-District team, I was really surprised," noted Gelatt, who has been accepted to medical school. "It was a real blessing to just get on that team, as it was nice to be able to put something like that on your medical school applications.
"To be on the national Academic All-America team is humbling. I don't think I stand out scholastically, but I strive to do my best in whatever I do.
"The Lord has put medical missions on my heart, so that is what I am shooting for. I have had to sacrifice some things, especially in my social life, for the classroom, so it was nice to get the award and give medical schools something to look at.
"To see the players who were also on that team, from such schools as North Carolina, Navy and Connecticut, is awe-inspiring to me."
With his goal of being a medical missionary, Gelatt has had to balance soccer with a rigorous academic agenda. The senior has compiled 160 credit hours, pursuing a degree in kinesiology with minors in business and chemistry. His kinesiology program features a curriculum especially designed for students who would like to pursue careers in medicine.
The defender has done well, posting a 3.83 GPA and earning Dean's List status every semester of his Liberty academic career. In addition, he is a four-time member of the Big South Presidential Honor Roll and last season, was named to the Big South men's soccer all-academic and VaSID all-state academic teams.
"Balancing academics and soccer has not been easy," admitted Gelatt. "The last couple of years have been a constant evaluation of my priorities in pursuit of my goal. I have had to keep my eyes on short term in getting things accomplished, but on the long term on what I am doing this for – the glory of God."
While Gelatt has concentrated on the short term in pursuit of a long-term goal, he thinks the Liberty soccer team has same approach.
"As a team, we are always reevaluating what we doing as a team," said the Flames' team captain. "We are always going back to the goals we established at the beginning of the year and seeing if we are achieving them.
"We may not be achieving them in the short term, but we need to continue to work toward our long-term goal of a Big South Championship."
Having been through it before, Gelatt and his fellow upperclassmen know what it will take to once again hoist the Big South trophy in November.
"We need to play as team for a full 90 minutes. Each player needs to take responsibility on themselves and not point figures or play the blame game.
"Last season, not many people thought we could win the Big South title. We don't have a problem with being underrated. So, we have proven to ourselves we can get it done again."
Just as he learned lessons from his studies, which have helped him obtain his goal of becoming a medical missionary, Gelatt hopes he and his teammates have learned from last year's Big South Championship experience, to make another one possible.
Written by Ryan Bomberger, an associate athletics communication director for Liberty University. He serves as the primary contact for Liberty University's baseball, men's and women's soccer and men's and women's tennis programs.