Soccer star to march Sunday, return in the fall

Injury in sophomore year gives Sam Ocel another shot at a title

Photos/Sportspix - Jan Volk

Ocel takes a free kick in a 2-0 win over Baruch College in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

In NCAA tournament against Vassar, Ocel scored the game-winning goal with 29.4 seconds left in regulation.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “There are no second acts in American lives.” 

Brandeis senior Sam Ocel is out to prove the author wrong, at least when it comes to his senior year on the Judges’ men’s soccer team.

Ocel  was the 2012 University Athletic Association Men’s Soccer Player of the Year, a National Soccer Coaches Association of America third-team All-American and Scholar All-American, and the Harry, Joseph and Ida Stein Award winner as Brandeis’ top male athlete for 2012-13. He led the Judges and the UAA in scoring, notching nine game-winning goals including in the team’s final three victories of the season.

But even though he will be marching with the Class of 2013 at commencement, he will be back for a second act -- another season. Ocel suffered a torn meniscus in his knee during the summer before his sophomore year, sidelining him from August until mid-winter that year, so throwing his cap in the air doesn’t mean the end of his playing career. He still has one season of athletic eligibility left.

Ocel, who has his sights set on dental school when he leaves Brandeis, preserved his eligibility by not enrolling in spring semester 2013 classes, instead choosing intern and volunteer opportunities that both helped him prepare for the future and were personally satisfying.

In addition to interning in an endodontic office and studying intensely for his dental school entrance exam, Ocel returned to Waltham frequently as a volunteer. He worked with the Junior Brandeis Achievers after-school program at the nearby Stanley Elementary School, hung out with his buddy Jesse, who he met through a Friend-to-Friend program and spent time with the Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister program. He was so enamored with the JBBBS program, he not only volunteered but got involved in recruiting for it.

“Bringing more people into the program is very important,” Ocel said. “It’s been so rewarding for me, but there are so many kids who need Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I really want to get more Brandeis student-athletes involved.”

He will continue the internship this summer and return in the fall with renewed motivation. Like every student-athlete at Brandeis, he hungers for an outright UAA crown and another shot at an NCAA championship. Ocel will have a new motivating factor too -- his younger brother, Josh, who is a central midfielder and incoming member of the Class of 2017. 

The two have been competitive with each other for as long as Ocel can remember, and he looks forward to the practices that split into upper- versus under-classmen.  His parents are excited to see the brothers working together on the field as well.

“We’ve never played together,” Sam said. “It was one of the bigger factors in my wanting to come back, and in his wanting to come to Brandeis. It’s really exciting.

“I love representing the university and my teammates, and I can’t wait to do it one more time.”

Ocel delivered the game-winning goal in the Judges’ final three victories last fall. In a 1-0 win over NYU to end the regular season, he helped the Judges to a share of their first-ever UAA crown. The next week, he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Baruch College in the opening round of the NCAA Division III tournament on Gordon Field. 

The next night, Ocel notched the most dramatic score of the season. He tallied with 29.4 seconds left in regulation of the second-round tournament game against Vassar College to give the Judges a 1-0 win. The teams raced up and down the field in the final minutes of regulation before Lee Russo sent a perfect cross that his classmate flicked in with his head.

It’s a goal that Ocel barely remembers. “After back-to-back games, I just remember being exhausted,” Ocel said. “I knew we were going to score. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know if it was going to be me, but I knew we needed to score. Because  I didn’t know if I could have lasted in overtime.”

The Judges lost in the next round, the Sweet 16, to the eventual Final Four squad of Williams College, finishing the season with an 18-3-1 record and their best campaign since 1985. 

“It was an awesome season and an awesome way to finish with my best friends,” Ocel recalled wistfully, speaking of teammates  and classmates Joe Eisenbies, Blake Minchoff and Russo, all of whom will be in the academic procession on Sunday.

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