Update: Ben Sippola was not drafted today, but still has a chance to make a team via the supplemental draft where another 54 players will be taken on January 18th. I will keep you updated on his status.
Everyone in Butler Nation, along with college basketball fans across the country followed Butler's Final Four run last March and watched as a blossoming sophomore, Gordon Hayward, took his last shot as a Bulldog. Just four months later, a different Bulldog team was making noise in the press and was led by another superstar. Much like Hayward and company ran through the Horizon League undefeated, the men's soccer team went undefeated through the entire regular season - posting a 16-0-3 record (3 ties) going into the second round of the NCAA tournament. Senior midfielder Ben Sippola played the role of do-it-all Hayward and the rest of the team continued to work hard to prove all the doubters wrong by winning and eventually climbing all the way up to #5 in the national rankings before losing to a fortunate Michigan State side on November 21.
Despite the early exit from the tournament, Butler and Sippola were awarded some well-earned recognition. Coach Kelly Findley won the 2010 Horizon League Coach of the Year. Butler seniors Conner Burt and Ben Sippola were named to the 2010 ESPN University Division Men’s Soccer Academic All-America Team. Ben Sippola and junior Matt Hedges were named to the Second Annual Goal.com Team of the Year. The same two (Sippola and Hedges) were named to the 2010 National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-America Team. Sippola was chosen to the first team, while Hedges held a spot on the second team. Sippola also won the Horizon League Male Scholar-Athlete of the Month twice out of the four month season. Ben was also listed as a semi-finalist for the Hermann Trophy (the top award in college soccer). And finally Sippola won the Horizon League Player of the Year award. In case you missed it, Ben Sippola was listed in all of the awards Butler won this year except for Coach of the Year, and I am sure Coach Findley would tell you that Sippola did a fair share of coaching as a team leader this year as well.
The recognition for Sippola has not stopped there. He was invited to the Major League Soccer (MLS) combine this past week where he was given a chance to work out in front of scouts from every professional team in the MLS as well as scouts from across the world. The purpose of the combine is for teams to evaluate who they will take in the MLS Draft that is scheduled for tomorrow at 12:00p EST. With only the top 54 players selected, many are unsure of Sippola status in the draft, but it is still not out of the question for him to play professionally next year if he were not to be taken. At least one source has him going #28 overall though. Ben was nice enough to answer a few questions following the combine- check out the brief interview below and keep your eye out for updates on his draft status tomorrow!
1. 2010: Horizon League Player of the year, NSCAA First Team - All American, First Team Academic All-American, Semi-finalist for NCAA Herman Trophy. When you committed to Butler while still in High School, did you ever imagine that you would achieve such prestigious awards?
Ben: I never imagined that I would achieve this much individual success in my collegiate career. However, I have always believed in my self as a player and my abilities. I have always believed that working hard ultimately pays its dues and that is the case with me. I simply worked hard for four years and I am now gaining recognition for it.
2. How did your role at Butler progress over the years, from starting 10 games in 2007, to 16 in 2008, to then starting and becoming a key contributor on the 2009 and 2010 teams?
Ben: My freshman year I was injured midway through the season, which caused me to miss a lot of time. However, since then I have started virtually every game for the last three years excluding some time I missed my sophomore year because of a concussion. The last two years I have had more of a leadership role and this past year I became the catalyst behind our offense, where in the past I was very defensive minded.
3. What were the expectations of the team going into the year? Did you ever expect to be undefeated going into the NCAA tournament?
Ben: The expectations for this past year were to win the horizon league championship and receive an NCAA bid allowing us to ultimately compete for a national championship. I never expected that we would go undefeated, however it is not surprising when you look at the character, talent, and strong bonds of brotherhood within our team and coaching staff. 2010’s undefeated season is a testament to what a group of people can accomplish when united by strong leadership and common goals.
4. The first loss of the season was in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Ben Ten foe Michigan State. What did they do that others could not?
Ben: I’m not necessarily sure that Michigan State did something that others could not. It ultimately came down to our inability to capitalize on our scoring opportunities, which seemed to be our Achilles heal as the season progressed. We out shot state 15 to 6, had the majority of the play, but just failed to score the one goal that we needed to put the pressure on them.
5. As the season progressed, were you aware of the interest coming from Major League Soccer? If so, how did you handle the pressure of playing in front of professional scouts.
Ben: I knew that my name was being thrown around a little bit, but it really did not affect my game. I was not concerned with scouts or interest from Major League Soccer. I was just concerned about winning games for Butler University. However, it is always encouraging to know that MLS is taking notice.
6. Where were you when the call came to participate in the MLS combine? You were expecting a call?
Ben: I was at my house at Butler University with all of my roommates. I was not expecting the call, so when I got it, I’m pretty sure I jumped for joy. I felt like a little kid at Christmas.
7. For the non-soccer followers, can you give us a brief summary of what the combine consists of?
Ben: The combine consists of the nation’s top 70 or so collegiate prospects. The players are split up into four teams and play a three game round robin over four days. Every MLS team and many other professional clubs watch and scout the games. Other than that, the combine consists of a lot of down time and various meetings with teams, the player’s union, and agents.
8. Was there a player at the combine who you bonded with most and how has it been to play with the best young players in the country?
Ben: I got a chance to spend sometime with long time horizon league rival and Green Bay Phoenix, JC Banks. We were placed on the same team at the combine and developed some chemistry in our last game when he played right wing and I right back.
The combine was a great experience as it exposed me to a whole new level of soccer, I now have a better idea of what I need to improve in my game.
9. Major League Soccer is continuing to grow both in teams and in fan base and many are beginning to consider it as an elite league. Have your sights been set on the MLS for awhile or are dreams of Europe beginning to form.
Ben: Right now I am concerned with playing my soccer in the United States. However if that does not work out, Europe is always an option.
10. What can we expect from Butler Men's Soccer next year with the significant amount of seniors graduating and Coach Findley taking the NC State job?
Ben: You can expect a team with a blue collar mentality, a great work ethic, and a lot of skill. I am confident Butler will hire a great new head coach as our Assistant Athletic Director, Beth Goetz, has a great soccer background and knows exactly what to look for in a coaching candidate.
Bonus: When you become the next Landon Donovan of USA Soccer, will you continue to support the Butler Bulldogs?
Ben: Although this is highly unlikely (laugh), I will always support the Butler Bulldogs. I bleed blue.
The next rapid fire questions can be answered with one word and should be the first thing that pops into your head.
1. What is next for Ben Sippola?
Ben: A lot of hard work on the soccer field.
2. If you had to compare yourself with a professional soccer player who would it be?
Ben: Gary Neville
3. Funniest teammate?
Ben: Adam Glanzer
5. What do you do when you aren't studying or playing soccer?
Ben: Fly Fishing
6. Favorite food?
Ben: Chipotle Burritos
Ben: James Taylor
Thanks Ben! Good luck this week we will all be cheering for you!