It’s 7 p.m. as fourth-year general business student Dave Gardiner walks on to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute soccer field to play the sport he’s loved ever since he could walk. He’s unflinching, and no matter what happens in any other aspects of his life, his mind remains focused on the game at hand and what he has to do to pull out a win. But in this moment, something feels different.
It’s Oct. 27 and not only is it his final game of the season, but it’s his final game ever as a college soccer player. For Gardiner, this simple fact is “heartbreaking.”
“I tried to go as hard as I could in every game while I still had time,” he said. “I tried to make the best of it while I still had it. Unfortunately … we didn’t get into the playoffs like we hoped to so [this] is going to be my last game.”
On Oct. 23, Gardiner and the rest of the SUNY New Paltz Men’s Soccer team fell to the Cortland Red Dragons 1-0 in a SUNYAC matchup, essentially putting an end to their shot at the championships, leaving them one game away from their final game of the season.
Despite the loss, Gardiner said he still feels good about his final season and what he has been able to accomplish with his teammates.
On Sept. 18, Gardiner scored two goals, giving New Paltz a 2-1 win against SUNY Oneonta, breaking a long history of perpetual loss.
“We ended up beating them for the first time in 41 years,” he said. “It was an awesome feeling because it was our first conference game, so that got us started really strong and it was against a really good team.”
According to Head Men’s Soccer Coach Eric Watson, ever since Gardiner arrived in New Paltz, his skills have contributed in strengthening the soccer team.
Each season, Watson said Gardiner consistently assisted and scored goals, understanding the concepts of what it means to be a balanced team player.
“Gardiner is a tireless worker on the field,” Watson said. “He is very dedicated to the game and is always looking for ways to improve his performance. He is an excellent finisher, but for a forward, he also defends extremely well in addition to being a very good crosser of the ball.”
During his last season, Gardiner was not concerned about impressing anyone. Instead, his main goal has been to stay physically healthy and bring 100 percent to everything he does.
Despite being noted for his fancy footwork, Gardiner said he attributes any success to being a “simple” player.
“I’m not one of those guys who is flashy or does a lot of moves, but when I get the ball … I try to rely on my teammates as much as possible,” he said.
Gardiner said soccer has always been an important part of his life. Early in his childhood, he remembers going to his older brother’s games and becoming fascinated with the sport. As he grew older, Gardiner said he tried every sport offered at his school, but after about the seventh grade, soccer became the only thing he played.
Because of its therapeutic qualities, Gardiner said it was no surprise that soccer became a huge part of his college experience.
“If I need to get away from something at home or if I’m having a rough day and I just want to get together with a few of my buddies and pass the ball around – play a little two-on-two – soccer gives me that release and it lets me just get away,” he said.
Despite facing his final game as a college student, Gardiner said this would not be the end of his devotion to soccer.
Regardless of what he does with his degree in business after he graduates this May, Gardiner said he still plans to make soccer a huge part of his life for a long time to come.
“My dad never played soccer growing up, but he coached me for years when I was a kid, so I’m not going to rule that out,” he said. “Once I have kids, I plan on trying to coach and stay involved with the sport in some way, no matter what it is.”