BOSTON — It’s not unusual for freshmen student-athletes to do more observing from the sidelines than playing on the field during their first year at the college level. But for UMass Boston freshman and St. Mary’s graduate Chris Garcia, that hasn’t been the case. Garcia jumped right into the fold on the Division III Beacons’ men’s soccer team and has fit in smoothly as a starting center-midfielder.
“At first it was a little hard, to be honest,” Garcia, a four-year varsity player at St. Mary’s, said of the transition from high school to college soccer. “I wasn’t playing my game in the preseason. Once the regular season started it was different. I caught my coach’s eye. I started playing patient. Everything’s different in college.
“It’s a much quicker-paced game (in college),” Garcia said. “Everyone’s built. Everyone’s a good player. There are no bad players on the pitch.”
Garcia, who helped lead the Spartans to an undefeated regular season as a senior last fall, has started five of UMass Boston’s nine games this year. He didn’t waste any time making an impact, as the Wakefield native scored his first career collegiate goal in just his second game with the Beacons — the lone tally in a 2-1 loss to Bridgewater State.
“It felt amazing,” Garcia said. “I honestly felt like I earned my spot. Words can’t explain how much it meant. I felt blessed to have my parents, coaches, coaches and friends from St. Mary’s supporting me. After the game, I had a bunch of my friends from St. Mary’s text me and congratulate me. I really appreciate that support.”
Garcia said he chose UMass Boston after hearing positive remarks about the academics and the men’s soccer program. He attributed part of his early success with the Beacons to the welcoming environment the team has established, which was helped Garcia find his comfort zone.
“I knew one of the players on the team and he said great things about the program and the school academically,” Garcia said. “The coaches are great. I felt like I belonged here. The team has brought me in like a brother and that’s what I like.”
Things have also gone well for Garcia in the classroom.
“I’ve been on top of things,” Garcia, an electrical engineering major, said. “Coach (Jake Beverlin) helps me a lot. The professors here are very lenient with my soccer schedule. I send them emails and they answer quickly. I think everything’s been going very well.”
The Beacons’ schedule has pinned them against some of the better teams in the country, but Garcia and his teammates welcome those challenges. Garcia’s first collegiate start came against Tufts, the No. 3 ranked team in Division III, on the road. UMass Boston lost the game but hung close in a 3-0 defeat.
“The competition’s very high,” Garcia said. “We played against Tufts and they were the No. 5- ranked team in the nation for Division III. Every player was very talented. The competition’s tough and all players are either club or academy players. It’s a great opportunity to play against them.”
Injuries have taken their toll on the Beacons through the first nine games of the season. UMass Boston sits at 3-6 on the year with victories over SUNY Plattsburgh, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Worcester State.
“At the beginning (of the season) it was very hard because we have a lot of freshmen and a couple injuries,” Garcia said. “We have two kids who have pulled their hamstrings. We’re keeping our heads up and being positive with everything. We have a bright future ahead of us. The coaches aren’t letting us put our heads down, that keeps us motivated.
“We just need to keep our heads up,” Garcia said. “We need to finish our opportunities. We’ve had some games end at 2-1 that we could’ve won. That’s been hurting our season. We need to keep our heads up and keep playing.”
The Beacons wrapped the non-conference portion of their schedule with Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Worcester State. UMass Boston kicks off its Little East Conference schedule Saturday afternoon (1) at Western Connecticut State.