The men’s soccer team was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Division I tournament, but Bruno fans will still have someone to cheer for this evening in the semifinal match between Indiana University and Creighton University. T.J. Popolizio ’12, who played three seasons with the Bears, is using his one remaining year of eligibility to play for the Hoosiers.
“T.J. was a real success story … he came in as a walk-on and worked his way up to a vital player on the team,” said Bears’ Head Coach Patrick Laughlin. “What sets him apart from others is that he is so competitive and willing to push himself so hard in everything he does, and that has allowed him to be so successful.”
Popolizio was a two-sport varsity athlete at Brown, a varsity wrestler for four seasons and a forward on the soccer team for three seasons. In a triumphant end to his Bruno career, Popolizio was Bruno’s leading scorer last season, notching eight goals and three assists.
Since he still had one year of eligibility after graduation, his competitiveness and athleticism attracted prospective coaches. Todd Yeagley, the Indiana head coach, was immediately interested, according to Laughlin, and a new door opened for Popolizio.
“He is an excellent example of what we strive for in Brown men’s soccer – to work hard toward your goals and earn great new opportunities,” Laughlin said. “T.J. worked extremely hard to get to that level.”
“Brown was an unbelievable experience for me,” Popolizio said. “It was four of the most special years ever. Those were my best friends and I really miss them. It would be hard to compare my one year here to that. Getting to play an extra year is just icing on the cake.”
Though it has been a rewarding experience to play with Indiana, the Hoosiers have had a “really up-and-down season,” according to Popolizio.
“We started off doing really well but lost a couple close games in the beginning of the season,” he said. “Into postseason play, we were really confident, but we got to a point that we started to question what we could do after coming up to the tournament with a stretch when we only won one game.”
Going into the tournament, the Hoosiers held the 16th seed, earning a first-round bye. Indiana defeated Xavier University 4-1 in the second round to move to the Sweet Sixteen for a battle against the top seed, the University of Notre Dame. Popolizio said the Hoosiers “dominated” the Irish, defeating them 2-1, and that win gave the team huge confidence for the remainder of the tournament. Indiana went on to upset the No. 9 University of North Carolina squad 1-0 on the road. If Indiana tops No. 12 seed Creighton, they will advance to the national championship match against either No. 3 Georgetown or No. 2 Maryland.
“We were able to get to the Final Four by being hot at the right time,” Popolizio said. “But at the same time … part of me wishes I could’ve done it with the guys who I’ve been through so much with at Brown.”
Popolizio expressed mixed feelings about a hypothetical Bruno versus Indiana matchup. He said that he found himself constantly checking the Bears’ scores and rooting for them all season long.
“I wanted those guys to get as far as possible,” Popolizio said. “It was tough to see them go out, but definitely a part of me that was happy we didn’t have to play them, because I know how good and tough of a team they are. It would’ve been emotional being on the same field playing against them.”
Popolizio emphasized how important his four years at Brown were to him personally, both athletically and academically.
“Personally, this has been a great accomplishment, and I love the Indiana team,” Popolizio said. “But it was really my four years at Brown that opened this door.”