Although he may seem like an unlikely hero on a team filled with several more physically-gifted and celebrated players – a team with eight international players, one already drafted by the pros and another likely on the way – the 5-foot-5 Feiner was the right guy to end up with the ball, said head coach Dennis Currier.
Never mind that he was recruited by few Division I schools coming out of Colorado and offered athletic scholarships by none. Currier said he and his assistants were of the same mind when “the moment” became Feiner’s.
“Fortunately the ball skipped to him,” Currier said. “We were like ‘Perfect!’ It couldn’t have gone to anyone better. We knew the ball was going to go in. He doesn’t panic.”
Feiner chipped the ball into the left side of the goal, past the Billikens’ goalkeeper who ended up grabbing his head in sudden disbelief and growing despair.
Dayton won 1-0 on one of the “biggest” goals in UD soccer history said Currier, who was just named the A-10 Coach of the Year.
It certainly changed the trajectory of this season. After the Flyers started the year 0-3, the victory helped catapult them to the Atlantic 10 Conference title in this COVID-altered season. The team would not lose again, finishing the season 4-3-1 and winning the right to host the A-10 Tournament at home.
Semifinal play begins today with top-seeded Dayton playing George Washington at Baujan Field at noon, followed by St. Louis meeting Fordham. The winners meet for the tournament crown Saturday at noon.
When he scored the double-overtime winner, Feiner threw his arms up and began running around until he was corralled and pulled to the turf by the Flyers’ Norwegian star, Jonas Fjeldberg, who Wednesday was named the A-10′s Offensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row and has been drafted by FC Cincinnati.
“Initially, Jonas wanted us to run over to our sidelines, but I was so excited I didn’t know what to do,” Feiner laughed. “He tackled me so the whole bunch wouldn’t have to keep chasing me.”
Jake Feiner, University of Dayton soccer. Dayton Athletics photo
The rest of the Flyers then ran over and began diving on top of them.
“They were jumping on top of me, screaming ‘We did it! This is it!’” Feiner said. “There was so much energy, so much happiness. But I was curled up at the bottom, just waiting for them to get off.”
When he finally escaped, he ran again, this time accompanied by 6-foot-1 sophomore Josh Darius.
“He was so excited,” Feiner said. “Josh and I have been sharing playing time all season. For him to hug me like that and support me like that shows that we truly are a team.”
As the pair were running, Feiner brought his hands to his lips and blew a series of exaggerated kisses.
“One was for our school, one was for my family and one was for my girlfriend,” he said.
After the game, Currier received numerous messages, including one text from a fan that said:
“Nothing finer than Feiner!
“Scoring the game-winning goal!”
Currier told his team about it later:
“It gave me a little laugh, but at first I thought it was kind of cheesy. But later, when I was driving up to our game at (St) Bonaventure, I thought about it more.
“I was thinking, ‘We’re not going to change the world with this win. But during this time filled with so much trauma, so much pain, if we gave somebody a little bit of a joy, a smile – if we gave our fans, our families, our university something to feel good about – then we accomplished a lot.
“It shows we were playing for something bigger than just us.”
‘Under the radar’
Feiner said he came into college soccer “under the radar.”
Coming out Silver Creek High School northwest of Denver, he played for two academy teams but didn’t have gaudy stats or an impressive stature.
“Coaches have always told me I’m too small,” he said. “I can’t change that, but I can change people’s minds by the way I play and impact a game.” Some of that was on display when his Real Colorado Academy team played in a Florida showcase.
“We actually lost, 8-2, but I played the whole 90 minutes and never gave up,” Feiner said. “Alex Ranalli, one of Dayton’s assistant coaches, was there and I guess he saw that. He contacted me and said he wanted me to fly out to Dayton to an ID Camp they had in the summer.”
Looking back now, Feiner laughed and made an admission: “To be honest, I didn’t even know Dayton was a school.” He said he did some quick research – “I found out it was a really good school” – and agreed to come.
He had had only two other overtures – from Missouri State, which said he would have to redshirt, and Vermont, which then went in another direction.
Jake Feiner, University of Dayton soccer. Dayton Athletics photo
When he got to UD, he made a bit of an impression, but after the one-day camp Currier admitted he and his staff were “on the fence” about him.
In the meantime, Feiner said Fjeldberg had shown him around the campus, taken him to the house he shares with other players and introduced him to some of the team.
Feiner liked all of it and when Currier finally decided to add him to the team, he accepted though he would have to rely on academic scholarships and financial aid, not an athletic scholarship.
Currier said they figured Feiner would need two years of development before he’d play, but he made them take notice right away and by season’s end, he’d played in 18 of the team’s 19 games, started nine and finished with two goals and assist.
As a sophomore, he played in all 21 games and started 20.
This year, after scoring a goal in the season-opening loss to Bowling Green, he especially impacted the Flyers’ turn-round down the stretch.
Over four games, he had three assists and two goals, including that huge score against St. Louis last month.
“We use Jake as an example,” Currier said. “He’s been able to play a lot of minutes at Dayton with other players who might be more talented or be bigger physically.
“He’s done that through his intangibles, his aggressiveness on the field, his work ethic and his love of the game. He’s part of the glue that has held us together.
“He’s the big unsung hero of our team.”
A closer team
“Obviously it’s been an unprecedented time in our history,” Currier said of the way the COVID pandemic has upended all facets of life, including college sports.
The soccer season was cancelled in the fall and moved – in compacted form – to this spring. Along the way, teams have had to deal with virus outbreaks of their own, periods of quarantine and the nonstop protocols and sacrifices required to stay safe.
Currier and Feiner said the team bonded both from the determination to protect the program from a COVID shutdown this spring and to turn the season around after the 0-3 start.
“It’s human nature when you go through adversity together, you are going to bond closer,” Currier said. “Our guys did that and now they’ll get some hardware at the end of the season for it. It will end up sitting in our offices and years later we can look at it and say, ‘Remember that COVID season?’”
He said they’ll remember all that it stands for. How they played for something larger than just themselves. How they gave people something to feel good about.
And folks did feel good.
Like that message said:
“Nothing finer than Feiner!”