- Homegrown talent
When sophomore Mike Wohl applied to colleges, he didn’t have to look far. Raised in nearby Northampton, Mass., Wohl has spent the majority of his life in Western Massachusetts. Though Wohl is a local boy at heart, he has soccer skills that have taken him far beyond the Pioneer Valley—a nine-goal flourish in his final four high school games landed him in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd,” and at the start of Amherst’s season, he was the leading scorer in the NESCAC, tallying 16 points on seven goals and two assists while leading the team to a 7-0 start.
Soccer wasn’t always Wohl’s game of choice. When he was younger, it was the runt of a three-sport litter. “I just really loved baseball and basketball, like every kid,” he says. “[Soccer] was always my least favorite of the three sports.”
When his first year at Northampton High rolled by, soccer was the first sport Wohl had a chance to play. That first season put soccer at the top of his list. He loved the team atmosphere and shattered school records for single-season goals, career goals, single-season points, career points and, not to ignore his old love of baseball, the school record for single-season stolen bases.
When it came time to consider colleges, Amherst caught his eye almost immediately. And in talking to coaches from other colleges, Wohl kept hearing the same response: “Well of course if you get into Amherst College, you’ll go there...but if you don’t, I think we would be a great fit.” So he applied to Amherst and was accepted early decision. Going to a college literally down the street from where he grew up wasn’t strange at all for him. In fact, it wouldn’t even be his first time there. Wohl spent three summers, when he was 10, 11 and 12 years old, at a basketball camp run by men’s senior basketball coach David Hixon ’75. Wohl didn’t remember much about the college, though. “I knew how to walk from Valentine [Dining Hall] to the gym,” he jokes.
Wohl enrolled at Amherst after a self-described “bad summer of soccer.” When he began his collegiate playing career, he says he had very low confidence and got to the point where “my mental state was ‘I don’t care. I’m just going to play, I don’t care how I look.’ I never thought I was playing well during preseason,” he says.
Others didn’t share his bleak assessment. Wohl was the first rookie off the bench in his first three games, and from the fourth game on, he was the only first-year in the starting lineup. “It was a dream season,” he says. “I wasn’t even expecting to play at all.”
During a particularly good stretch, Wohl tallied a pair of game-winning goals in victories over Babson and then-fifth-ranked Bowdoin, earning NESCAC Player of the Week honors. Playing striker, Wohl went on to tie for 12th in the NESCAC in points per game (0.93) and 13th in goals per game (0.40). The team ended its season with a record of 10-3-2.
Now, Wohl “bleeds purple,” according to Assistant Coach Milton Gooding. Even among the best of the best, Wohl stands out with his “work rate and ethic,” Gooding says. “He is talented more than most, and he works at it. He’s never missed a practice.”
During the past two summers, Wohl suited up for Western United, one of the premier amateur soccer programs in Western Massachusetts. He came off the bench during his first season but returned with a flourish last summer, cracking the starting lineup and leading the team to the 2004 Massachusetts State Cup Championship. In the title game, four minutes into the first overtime, Wohl scored the game-winning “golden goal.” In Wohl’s words, it was the “biggest goal of my life.”
While soccer has brought Wohl awards and records, the most memorable consequence of his playing has nothing to do with sport. During his time on the varsity and junior varsity teams in high school, Wohl grew close to his coach, Jay Czelusniak, who he says became his “best friend.” Wohl even landed a summer internship at Czelusniak’s other enterprise, Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton, where he helped with everything from taking flowers to gravesites to a slightly more morbid task, going on “removals.” “For the first two weeks,” he said, “I was afraid of the dead, but I got over it quickly.”
Now a sophomore at Amherst, Wohl has declared a Spanish major and intends to add economics as his second major. Finance, he says, came naturally to him during high school, and he plans on working in investment banking. Though some would argue economics isn’t about fun and games, Wohl would smile and disagree. Before he graduates, Wohl hopes to put together a competitive Monopoly club at Amherst. He played the game seriously throughout high school, often completing games with three to six players in under an hour and 15 minutes, an unusual finish for a game known to devour most of an afternoon. In addition to Monopoly and investment banking, Wohl has his sights set on an internship at ESPN. He also hopes to spend time in Madrid next year. Wohl hasn’t completely abandoned baseball or basketball, either. He’s the public-address announcer for the college’s men’s and women’s basketball and baseball teams and has found time to work his way up the ranks of the United States Fencing Association, winning first place in an E-classification tournament.
In regard to soccer, though, Wohl has only scratched the surface. He kicked off the 2004 season by finding the back of the net in each of the Jeffs’ first six games, scoring a pair of game-winning goals and assisting on two others, employing a style based primarily on maximum effort. Running hard the entire game, Wohl helped the team’s defense give up a trite four goals in seven games, and the team’s midfield effectively shut down its opposition each time. “Our team is growing accustomed to playing with one another, and I think we’re going to have a very successful season,” he said at the time. That prediction proved true, with the Jeffs finishing the season 10-5 and Wohl himself named to the 2004 NESCAC Men’s Soccer All-Conference Team.
With two years of soccer eligibility remaining for Wohl, Amherst is in for a good ride with one of its own behind the wheel. “It’s great,” Gooding says. “To see a local kid succeed so well is a great thrill.”
—Samuel Masinter ’04
Photo: Tracy Montigny '06E