Despite it being Seton Hall men’s soccer captain Stephen Elias’ first season on campus as a graduate student, his roots with the school are far entrenched within his soccer history.
Elias came over in a slew of new additions by head coach Andreas Lindberg over the summer. Elias previously spent four years, albeit only three playing, at North Carolina State before heading back closer to home in South Orange.
While at North Carolina State, Elias scored one goal in 38 games, including 14 starts. He had 19 shots in that timeframe, which is a stark difference from his six shots in three games for the Pirates. Elias also scored a hat trick in his first game in blue and white, something he certainly was not used to at his alma mater.
Although on paper it may seem like a revelation for a player who was not supposed to put up these numbers, it was a long time coming for Elias. Putting in the work over the summer and his last season with the Wolfpack in both training and game action, Elias was able to build up his confidence and reach the point that he is at today.
“The last year for me was a big learning experience,” Elias said. I think maturity wise to playing the way I am now and scoring a hattrick is a great feeling, but you have to keep pushing.”
Plenty of that confidence also came from his spring and summer training, as he played in the Cosmopolitan Soccer League and National Premier Soccer League after completing undergrad in December 2018.
In the Cosmopolitan League, Elias played with recent Seton Hall alumns Nico Andersen, David Arvidsson, and Morten Wenaas. That trio, as well as assistant coach Jeff Matteo, who Elias has known dating back to the assistant coach’s time at St. John’s, made the transition as a Pirate that much easier going in.
Andersen, Arvidsson, and Wenaas gave him a sneak peak of life in New Jersey, all of which came with good reviews. It made the transition that much easier, especially as a player entering a program that is still undergoing a major overturn.
“They loved it,” Elias said. “I don’t think they ever said one bad thing. They talked great about [Lindberg] and [Matteo] and the players that were there. Playing with them, it made me see what types of players were already at Seton Hall and how their mentality and work ethic was.”
Getting firsthand experience from the former players has helped Elias learn how to help guide a team that has not had a winning season since 2006.
“I had a losing year at NC State so I know where [Lindberg] is coming from and how it takes a lot to build a program back up,” Elias said. “I think these young guys this year, I’ve never had freshmen so hungry, so eager to play and get going. I think that helps the older guys as well that are experienced because having a guy push them and compete for their spots or a young guy starting and an old guy competing for the young guy’s spot, it’s a great environment and a competitive environment.”
Lindberg eyes Elias as a key motivator to turn the program into contender, as evident by the yellow band now dawning on his bicep. Elias understands the gravity that comes with a title such as captain on a Division I program and was entirely willing to accept the challenge when given to him prior to the season.
“[I] definitely was in shock. All the other guys said they saw it but obviously I didn’t see it,” Elias said. It was a great feeling, but I knew that it was a responsibility, being able to push all the guys and not just myself.”
Although it is not easy for anyone to step in and be a captain of a team in his or her first season on it, Elias has had the foundation set in place for him and has the personal tools to make it work. He attributed a team trip to the Hamptons in New York prior to the season as a big building block to helping the team gel and get on the same page with one another.“I think us being in a secluded area and getting to know one another and [Lindberg] pushing us with our presentations to get to know each other,” Elias said. “People putting themselves out there, and it was great for the team to get closer.”
The trip was centered around team bonding, but the team naturally could not get away from soccer. When not talking, you could find Elias and his teammates near the pool with a soccer ball, on the beach with a soccer ball, or on a court playing soccer tennis.
In that sense, the bonding seen by the team has been what made Elias’ transition back to the tri-state area that much easier. Although the facilities and school play a big role in any recruiting pitch, it is the people that have helped make Elias feel at home.
“[The transition] has been great, especially coming from my teammates, they’ve been really helpful,” he said. “Especially all the new guys, I think we had 14 guys come in, so it’s a big group to bond together.”
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @KevinKopfHWH.