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Kuykenstrong D.C. College Cup the perfect tribute for Shawn Kuykendall

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WASHINGTON — Amid the intensity of the start of the new college soccer season, the Kuykenstrong D.C. College Cup at Reeves Field at American University was also a place for remembering those who have contributed to the college game.

Before each match, a moment of silence was held for former head coaches Sam Koch of UMass Amherst and Logan Fleck of Stetson University, both of whom passed away on July 21 at the ages of 59 and 54 respectively. In addition, former Eagle Shawn Kuykendall, who passed in March and for whom the D.C. College Cup has been renamed, was in everyone’s thoughts throughout the weekend.

Now in its 14th year of existence, the D.C. College Cup was renamed for Kuykenstrong, the charity created in Shawn’s memory after he succumbed to thymic carcinoma on March 12, 2014. With a number of the charity’s shirts spotted in the crowd, the two-day festival of soccer featured the men’s teams from Howard, George Mason and George Washington universities as well as Shawn’s alma mater, American.

+READ: In big George Mason victory, Timi Mulgrew and Colton Amidon step up

With the memory of their former player and assistant coach weighing on their minds, the Eagles would have been determined to get off to a good start on Friday against George Washington, with the hope of paying the most fitting tribute possible to their former star.

Even after a goalless first half, the Eagles had plenty of room for optimism for the second period, and it would be rewarded as Joe Iraola finished well to give them the lead then Liam Robley would hit a stunning free kick that flew into the top corner. The tournament hosts coped well with the direct style by the Colonials, who looked to hammer the ball forward at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, American tried to stay true to their regular style of passing soccer that uses the full width of the field, and despite some difficult moments came away with the win. After the game, associate head coach Kris Hazard spoke of the importance of Shawn to the Eagles program, and how he would have greatly enjoyed the day’s proceedings.

“Shaun for me, obviously he’s probably spent a third of his life with this university when he was alive,” Hazard told SoccerWire.com. “I served with him when he was a second assistant, and his passion is for me what sticks. You always want the guys to remember a guy like that. His number is in the locker-room, it’s in there for the year. We talk about him often, he was a great soul and I know as years go by guys won’t remember him, but he just had a great effect on everything he did. It was great for us to be able to rename this.

“He would have been all over the place, he’d have been jumping on the field, and he’d probably be doing push-ups behind the bench because he was so excited. He’d have been pumped for sure.”

With their victory, American made the perfect start to the tournament on their home turf, but knew that the job was only half done. Hazard said that had he been present, Shawn would have been emphasizing that very same message to the players.

Sunday marked the end of this year’s College Cup with two further games, including the matchup between American and George Mason to round the whole event off. Unfortunately, the Eagles were edged 1-0 by Mason, who reached the second round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, thanks to a penalty by Timi Mulgrew.

The result meant Mason finished the weekend with a perfect 2-0 record, having defeated Howard 7-0 on Friday afternoon in the opening fixture of the weekend. The Bison would go on to lose their second game on Sunday by a margin of 4-1 to George Washington, in a weekend that marked the first matches in charge for new head coach Phillip Gyau.

It brought to an end a weekend that was filled with intense games, as teams all sought to get off to a flying start in the new NCAA season. Referees were berated from the sidelines, players flew into challenges and a number of excellent goals were scored. With a strong crowd in attendance in spite of some searing heat, such an excellent standard of soccer was the perfect tribute for Kuykendall, who is still highly regarded both at American University and around soccer in the D.C. area.

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