MERIDEN — In this season of firsts for the Wesleyan University women’s soccer team, the Cardinals have ridden their first-ever invite to the NCAA Division III Tournament all the way to the Final Four, and Meriden’s Bill Dudzik is right in the middle of it.
The 72-year-old city resident has been been assistant for the Cardinals for 26 years. On Wednesday, he and the team traveled to the University of North Carolina Greensboro where, on Friday, they’ll take on the College of New Jersey in the national semifinals.
Game time is 1:45 p.m. Wesleyan, the Cinderella as a No. 14 seed, is 18-1-2. The College of New Jersey, a No. 1 seed, is 20-0-2. Christopher Newport of Virginia (20-0-1) and Loras College of Iowa (21-0-2) meet in the other semi.
“It’s been an exciting ride,” Dudzik said. “This is the first time we are ever going to the Final Four and we feel we can beat anyone right now.”
Dudzik, a lifelong Meriden resident, is a 1968 Wilcox Tech graduate. He was a co-captain of the soccer and baseball team with the Indians before joining the Navy.
He played club football for the Naval Academy and broke his leg in a game against Army in 1970.
Then he went back to soccer and began coaching. He started the Vinal Tech girls program and stayed on for six years.
Shortly after, he latched on with Wesleyan as an assistant. He was with the Cardoinals in 1994 when they won the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship. Two years later, he became an official assistant.
Mobility has redefined his role a bit over the years.
“I’ve had my knee replaced and I have arthritis, so the other coaches are doing the running around,” Dudzik said. “I basically work one-on-one with the players and give them some advice and encouragement. I keep tabs on how many minutes they play and I write all kinds of notes. All of the coaches get together and figure out who to start.”
Eva Meredith, a native of Sweden, is the Wesleyan head coach. She’s in her 18th season.
Dudzik said Wesleyan’s 2021 team is young and the bulk of the squad will return next fall.
This season, the Cardinals won their first six games and went 12-1-1 overall in the regular season. They fell to Middlebury in the NESCAC Tournament final on penalty kicks, but wound up receiving an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
Wesleyan opened with a 1-0 victory in Middletown over Penn State-Behrend. Remi Feuerman, a senior from San Francisco, had the goal.
A 1-0 victory over Stevens Institute of Technology followed in the second round, also in Middletown. The Cardinals held the Ducks to three shots on net and scored the day’s lone goal with 9:17 to play when junior Audrey Lavey of Newton, Mass. converted on a corner kick.
That sent Wesleyan to the Sweet Sixteen in Cambridge, Mass. and a date with Johns Hopkins, the No. 2-ranked team nationally, a team that’s been going to the NCAA tournament every year since 2004.
This trip for the Blue Jays ended when Fueurman broke a 1-1 tie in the 49th minute.
Another 2-1 victory awaited Wesleyan in the Elite Eight. Up against host MIT, Wesleyan punched its Final Four ticket in overtime.
Junior Grace Devanny of Concord, N.H., the 2021 NESCAC Player of the Year, scored both goals. (She now has 12 on the season.) The winning goal against MIT came 35 seconds into overtime.
Dudzik and the Cardinals flew to North Carolina on Wednesday and practiced on Thursday ahead of Friday’s game with College of New Jersey.
This marks the sixth time over the past four years (seventh time overall) in the history of Wesleyan Athletics that a Cardinals team sport is competing in a national semifinal. The 2021 women's soccer team joins Wesleyan baseball (1994), men's lacrosse (2017, 2018), women's lacrosse (2019) and women's tennis (2019, 2021) as the fifth different program to advance to a Final Four.