Soccer standout Stefan Cleveland ’16 finds success in Louisville

by Brandon Lee | 10/21/16 12:15am

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After graduating in 2016, Stefen Cleveland ’16 now plays for the University of Louisville.

Source: Courtesy of Stefan Cleveland

Former Big Green goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland ’16 knows quite a bit about winning. The 6-foot 1-inch Dayton, Ohio native has had the perfect college career. After riding the pine behind the incumbent Noah Cohen ’14 his freshman year, Cleveland has made a name for himself on the pitch as a premier goalkeeper both during his time at the College and now at the University of Louisville.

As a sophomore, Cleveland made his debut against the College of the Holy Cross on Sept. 7, 2013 and made an immediate and lasting impact. Against the Crusaders, Cleveland allowed just one goal on seven saves en route to a 1-1 tie. For the remainder of the 2013 season, he allowed just four more goals out of seven games, made 24 saves and recorded his first shutout against Lafayette College. Unsurprisingly, Cleveland only got better.

There was “constant progression individually and with the team,” he said.

However, he does not attribute his improvement solely to his motivation. Rather, he credits Ryan Fahey, an assistant head coach for the men’s soccer team now in his third year, who specializes in goalkeeping.

“He really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone in training every day,” Cleveland said.

During his junior year, Cleveland posted six shut out games, a record which he surpassed in his senior year with nine shutouts. He finished his undergraduate career with 33 goals allowed, 16 shutouts and an astonishing 126 saves. He posted a stellar 0.99 goals against average, a measure of the number of goals allowed multiplied by the length of the game and divided across the minutes logged.

Cleveland said he thinks the team improved every year, noting the improved organization of the team’s defense.

“I didn’t have to make as many saves,” he said. “I had five guys in front of me who were rock solid. They didn’t have to call on me too often, but when they did, I tried not to let it slip through the cracks.”

Cleveland helped lead the team to two consecutive Ivy League Championships and two NCAA Tournament appearances in his final years, which he identified as his “proudest moments at Dartmouth.” For his efforts, in 2012 and 2013, the Ivy League gave him First Team All-Ivy honors. He earned the prestigious role of co-captain during his senior year, along with being voted the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year in 2015.

Reminiscing about the two championships on the pitch, Cleveland noted how great it was to have a packed and excited home crowd at Burnham Field.

“It was unbelievable when we put the first goal in the net,” he said. “You could feel it in the air.”

But after his senior year, Cleveland said he didn’t know what he wanted to do regarding soccer. Because the Ivy League only allows a redshirt due to injury, Cleveland was not eligible to play another year of soccer for the Big Green. Instead, with one year of NCAA eligibility left, he took his talents to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

A mutual friend helped put him in touch with the Cardinals’ head coach, Ken Lolla, whose experience helped make the team a powerhouse in NCAA soccer, Cleveland added. Given the soccer program’s track record at Louisville, the decision was “pretty easy” for Cleveland.

“The facilities and resources are one of the most unbelievable programs in college soccer, hands down,” he said. “It’s truly awesome here.”

While Lolla cannot remember the last time he has had a graduate student transfer in to play for the Cardinals, he praised Cleveland for already playing college soccer at a high level.

Since transferring, Cleveland has had to face the likes of Wake Forest University, Notre Dame University and Syracuse University, three teams currently ranked in the NCAA’s top-20 rankings.

Lolla noted that Cleveland is a very mature and disciplined student-athlete.

“He’s adjusted to one, the speed of play and two, the rigors of playing in the ACC, which appears to be the best conference in the country,” Lolla said.

With a 10-3-2 record, the Louisville Cardinals currently rank 13th in the NCAA. The team is also second to Wake Forest in the Atlantic subsection of the ACC.

Similarly, Cleveland continues to dominate. Through 15 games, Cleveland has only allowed nine goals and shut out eight teams, including the University of Connecticut, Notre Dame and Syracuse. He boasts a 0.795 save percentage, 35 saves and a 0.581 goals against average percentage, which is currently 11th in the NCAA.

While this will be Cleveland’s only year at Louisville, soccer still continues to be a part of his future.

He has an engineering degree from Dartmouth and is pursuing an MBA at Louisville but wants to play professional ball. With his success with the Big Green as well as the Cardinals, it’s clear that he’s taking all the right steps.

“He...is very tuned in and understands what he needs to do to be successful,” Lolla said.

Fresh off a win against Ohio State University, Cleveland and the Cardinals will travel to Raleigh to play North Carolina State on Sunday at 1 p.m. before defending their field with a game against Clemson University on Oct. 28. Depending on how the season ends, the Cardinals will face off their conference foes in the first round of ACC Championships beginning on Nov. 2.