Dan Saunders roams around his side’s defensive zone, making plays on the ball as well as setting up his teammates for the attack. His position takes a toughness, discipline, and an understanding of the game. He must process information and make good decisions. Saunders provides the type of heady play that does not show up in the scorebook.
Saunders grew up in Tewksbury, Mass., a small but sports-crazy town in the eastern part of the state. While at Tewksbury Memorial High, he played soccer for the Redmen. Saunders admits that his high school team was not the best.
“We did not win many games my junior and senior year, and I felt embarrassed,” Saunders said. “I had always played the game very physical, but after that I played with a chip on my shoulder.”
This style of play drew interest from Coach Adam Hildabrand.
Coach Adam Hildabrand, a former player at the college, brought him onto the squad because he liked how physically and aggressively Saunders played the game. Dan admits that playing college soccer seemed a little odd to him at the time.
“Honestly, when I came to MCLA I was useless,” he said. “I did not have a position I could play. Really the only thing I could do was hustle and be a junk yard dog out there.”
“Coach talked to me and basically told me he liked what I brought to the table,” Saunders continued. “The first two years were a little tough, because I was still trying to develop my technical skills and playing time was hard to come by. Luckily I developed a group of friends that are basically like brothers to me.”
Saunders has lived with Tommy Duplisea, Austin Sniezek, Liroy Ozinci, and Gary D’Annunzio since his freshman year.
“We really have been friends through it all,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we wanted to kill each other, but we always ended up laughing.”
Saunders’ first year was a learning experience. He appeared in six games for the Trailblazers, playing the position of back.
The team was full of upper classmen and playing time was hard to come by. This did not discourage Saunders, who treated every practice like a game situation.
“Going up against guys like Raul Escobar and Ben Twomey was good for me,” Saunders said. “They were very physical players and I wanted to follow them. I figured that going hard in practice helped me.”
In Saunders’ junior year, the team looked to make a run at the MASCAC conference tournament. This was Saunders’ opportunity to help his team.
He made a big jump, starting 13 games and appearing in two more. He worked hard to gain possession of the ball, and to chase down opposing players and stop scoring chances.
“I like the wide open spaces that soccer has. I love being able to chase down my opponents and get to loose balls.” Saunders said when talking about his role on the team.
MCLA only allowed 19 goals in that campaign.
Saunders’ last game was something of a surreal moment. It was an unforgiving Berkshire County day as a sharp wind whipped across the field turf. Although the Trailblazers were out of playoff contention, they refused to give Bridgewater State and inch.
Saunders has good memories of that match.
“I just really played with total adrenaline and emotion. It got pretty chippy out there but I know I played as hard as I could,” he said.
After MCLA, Saunders says that he will probably go back to Tewksbury and hopefully coach soccer as well as work full-time.
By Robert Beauchesne