Senior spotlights: Men’s soccer seniors guided team to landmark playoff run with quality leadership

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Photo: Danny Kennedy

The ’23 Seniors were the first in Lions history to lead men’s soccer to the NEWMAC finals.

By Leo Kagan, Sports Editor

The Emerson men’s soccer team came extremely close to winning a NEWMAC Championship, but fell to Babson College 1-0 in the finals on Nov. 5, ending not just a strong playoff run, but the careers of the team’s seniors.

The Lions’ crushing final loss came at the tail end of a historic postseason run which included the program’s first ever NEWMAC Finals appearance. Sporting a 3-11-2 record in 2021, the Lions struggled. But in 2022, the team made a full 180, qualifying for the playoffs with a 10-3-6 record and earning its first playoff berth since 2012, when the team still participated in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC). 

At the season’s end, the program was honored with a number of NEWMAC awards, including Coaching Staff of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and three All-Conference selections. 

Players are hungry for a return to the postseason next fall, aiming to capture the NEWMAC title they narrowly missed out on. The 2022 season will be remembered not for its shortcomings, but for its successes. 

As part of a series of pieces highlighting the success of Emerson’s fall sports clubs—particularly those that came from the hands (or feet) of each team’s seniors—The Beacon interviewed players and the coaching staff from the men’s soccer team to find out why the team’s graduating players will be missed next fall. 

Shane Biathrow – Midfielder

Biathrow was a key cog in the Lions’ midfield rotation, particularly after recovering from some early injuries. Head Coach Daniel Toulson said Biathrow’s strengths lie in his ability to move the ball from defense to offense quickly. 

“College soccer’s all about transitions,” Toulson said. “He is really good in those, really physical.”

With just three career goals, Biathrow didn’t put together a glowing stat sheet offensively but his cardio and effort levels were a perfect fit for his position. 

“He’s one of those players that just does not stop running,” Toulson said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s just lost the ball or just won [it]. All energy, all intensity, which is what you need in the midfield.”

He’s also a team player, said sophomore midfielder Hugo Berville, who shares a Sports Communications class with Biathrow. 

“He’s always there for the team,” Berville said. “He got an injury mid-season and even though he had difficulties [moving], he came to our games and even came to practices.”

Bo Feekins – Defense 

Standing tall in the Lions’ backline, Feekins was a reliable defender who contributed to the success of a team that prided itself on its defense. Allowing less than one per game, the Lions allowed half the number of goals they scored throughout the season—and Feekins was key to the backend’s success. Toulson said this year Feekins—who is part of the team’s leadership group—became a more vocal captain. 

“[When] you talk about guys that give inspirational speeches—he’s a guy people look to in the locker room in terms of motivation,” Toulson said. “We ask a lot from our leadership group and he’s one that’s done so much. He was one of the leaders that organized our work with Grassroots Soccer that ended up raising $7,500 for at-risk youth around the world.”

Defensively, Feekins was solid, but like Biathrow, he didn’t light up the scoresheet. He scored just once in his career, but it was an important one—the game-tying goal in double-overtime of the Lions’ NEWMAC Semifinals matchup against MIT, a game the Lions eventually won. Berville said the goal sent an explosive charge through the team. 

“[Whenever] we scored I was really happy,” he said. “But when he scored against MIT, it was like I scored—it was like we all scored. This only goal was an amazing memory we’ll always have.”

Aidan Ferguson – Midfielder

Ferguson, another team leader, was a standout, earning First Team All-Conference honors at season’s end. He tallied four career points as a defensive midfielder, a position in which first-year midfielder Gabe Rich said he excelled. 

“[Midfielder is] one of the most taxing positions because you have to handle a lot of pressure on the offensive side,” Rich said. “He’s probably the hardest worker on our team. At half time, his lips will be white because he’s been running so much.”

As a member of the Lions’ leadership group, Ferguson was relied on for more than what he contributed on the field. Toulson said Ferguson was highly focused on his play, an attitude that was infectious. 

“His mentality and his work ethic has gotten him to where he is,” Toulson said. “Every day in the offseason he’s in the gym, getting touches on the ball, really diligent. Aidan’s definitely a leader by example. [He’s] a guy that knows how to get things done and still be lighthearted.”

Ferguson plans to return to Emerson for graduate school and continue to play for the Lions. 

Phil Han – Forward

Han, who entered as a center back but transitioned to the forward position, leads his graduating class with six career goals. Toulson said despite initially recruiting Han for a defensive role, his precise shooting served as an impetus to shift him up the field. 

“He has the technical quality,” he said. “A guy you want in front of the goal all the time because he’s really accurate with his shooting.”

Toulson added that Han’s commitment to team success was inspiring—despite not being a part of the formal leadership group, Han developed into a role model. 

“He started to help the strikers on the team,” Toulson said. “One of the things that set him apart this year, he seemed to be bought into the group. One of those guys that helped younger players see, this is how you need to act. Every session he came to, he was working the hardest I’ve ever seen him work.”

Nathan Yarborough – Forward

Two years ago, Yarborough earned a spot as a walk-on due to his strong work ethic, according to Toulson. Since then he’s worked his way into 11 of the team’s games as a supplementary forward option. He scored his only career goal in the Lions’ Nov. 20 victory over Lesley University, helping the team capture its eighth Charles River Cup. Berville said he’ll remember Yarborough’s constant drive to improve. 

“He’s always there in practices with a great level of intensity,” he said. “It’s important to have players like this. For him, what I saw is that he’s never satisfied with himself. He always wants to get better.”

Rich said Yarborough was hard on himself, but was also one of the most uplifting players to work with. 

“Nate’s been probably the most positive guy on our team this year,” Rich said. “I think in that sense, he’s been a big part of the product of our team. It’s positive reinforcement from his words, high-fives, [and] keeping people on a high note.”

Class of 2023

The 2022 Lions may not have won the NEWMAC Championship, but they still had a successful season, led by a group of seniors that Rich said was willing to do whatever it took to improve. 

“They dealt with a ton of rough, losing seasons,” Rich said. “[They had] a chip on their shoulders, the energy and resilience to go this far after having so many demoralizing seasons. Early in the summer when we were doing our fitness tests, some people weren’t really on top of it at times, and [the seniors] wanted no excuses, they didn’t want to have any regrets.”

Berville noted that the team will miss the leadership presence, whether each senior was a formal captain or not. 

“Just great leaders,” he said of the seniors. “For example, Phil doesn’t talk as much as Bo and Fergie because they’re the captains, they were always leading by example, I think that’s the most important thing for younger guys. They [showed] what has to be done and what we have to follow. They fought for this team and made it the team it is today.”

Though Ferguson stated he plans to return next fall, most seniors will say farewell to the men’s soccer team. But their legacy—one marked by a historic playoff run, and of noteworthy leadership—will remain.