Mike was always focused on his team and helping others to be as good as they could be. He was known for his caring and sympathetic conversations off the field. Mike was an intense competitor who never lost sight of his teammates, respected his coaches, and willingness to step up when others were timid or lacked confidence. He was fiercely protective of his goalie, would offer anyone a hand up, and was first in line to congratulate the other team on a game well played. For Mike, it wasn’t how well he played the game, it was more important how his actions helped others play the game to the best of their ability.
“When parents, family, and friends attend matches they very rarely see and/or hear what happens on the player/coach’s side of the field. During Mike’s first year at JWU, we were in the 1st round of the conference playoffs, away at St. Joe’s in Maine. It was deep into the 2nd half and the score was tied 0-0. Mike was playing right-back, directly in front of me. I was standing in the technical area, fairly close to the St. Joe’s coach who was standing in his area. The ball had gone out of bounds for a throw-in for JWU. The game was reaching a critical stage, saying it was a bit tense was an understatement. Based on what was happening at the moment I wanted the ball back in play as quickly as possible. I picked up the ball that had gone out of bounds to hand to Mike, not realizing that he was casually jogging over to get it from me. I said, “Goepp what the heck are you doing? Let’s go – quickly!” Mike never sped up. He replied, “I’m getting there, coach.” I rolled my eyes and sarcastically said, “Take your time.” Mike finally got to the sideline and said, very casually, “Coach you look tense, maybe you should sit down. What me to get you something to drink?” The opposing coach and I burst out laughing, taking the tension away from both of us. Mike’s coach also said, “I didn’t want the best players, I wanted the right players.” Mike was one of those “right players”.
Off the field, Mike was the one to look out for the person sitting alone, someone who felt left out, and kids who did not fit in. He would enter a room knowing a few people but would leave knowing everyone. To Mike, strangers were friends he had not met yet.
I will always remember when Mike took the first kick in a penalty shoot-out to determine a regional championship. Mike had played a fantastic game, with perfect slide tackles, defeating break-away runs by all-state forwards, and clearing loose balls out of the box. At the end of overtime, the score was tied. The coach asked who wanted to take the first shot – Mike immediately raised his hand – everyone else was happy to be the second person because so much depended on what happened with the first kick. As a defender, Mike had a strong leg but was sometimes inaccurate. As a leader, Mike was willing to take on the pressure for the team. He lined up the shot -- didn’t try to be fancy – struck the ball solid – but missed wide right. I could tell he was devastated as he went to his knees. But he bounced up and went directly to his goalie, apologized for putting more pressure on him, but told the goalie that Mike had every confidence in his ability to save at least one ball. In the end, the goalie saved two shots and Mike’s team pulled an upset over the 5th ranked team in the nation and won a regional championship. Mike’s friends would kid Mike about his shanked ball but they always recognized that his play on the field and willingness to step up when the team needed a leader gave them the victory.