Mark Berson has been the head coach of South Carolina men’s soccer since the program’s inception more than 40 years ago. While there have been ups and downs, there has always been one constant: the culture of the program.
On this year’s squad, senior forward Tucker Monheimer is the epitome of that culture.
From overtime heroics, to never giving up on a play, to taking younger players underneath his wing, Monheimer encapsulates what it means to be a Gamecock and play for Berson. The forward from Louisville, Ky. ranks second on South Carolina (7-8-2) in points (11) and goals (five) and leads the team game-winning goals, with three.
Monheimer, along with South Carolina freshman Brian Banahan, leads the team into the Conference-USA Tournament, which begins for the No. 6 seed Gamecocks with a matchup at 7 p.m. Wednesday against No. 3 seed FIU at the ODU Soccer Complex in Norfolk, Va.
South Carolina handed the Panthers their first loss of the year on Nov. 1.
Monheimer, who spent is freshman season at Northern Kentucky, credits the guys he looked up to when he first arrived for his commitment to the culture.
Berson has seen Monheimer embrace the culture of the program and grow over the last three years, mostly through how hard he works.
“This is a guy that came in and had a lot to learn. Through his work ethic, and through how hard he’s worked on the field, he’s been able to really do well,” the coach said. “Each player that comes through our program leaves some type of impression. And the lasting impression of what Tucker is, is hard work.”
Monheimer’s hard work is paying off.
He ranks tied for second in the conference game-winning goals, tied for third in shots (ninth in shots per game) and tied for seventh in goals. He scored two goals in a game against Furman.
“He’s making better decisions. He’s finishing balls with more accuracy,” Berson said in October. “He knows what we want to do on the field, he knows our system, and I think things are starting to click for him.”
Monheimer’s three game winners include two in overtime against Gardner-Webb and Mercer, home games that were played eight days apart.
“One of the things Tucker has always had is a good work ethic. He really works really, really hard,” Berson said. “He doesn’t give up on any half chances or any partial opportunities. You can count on him to run down those types of things.
“In those overtime game-winning goals, he was in the right place at the right time, because he didn’t give up on a half chance. He pushed to the end and then he was rewarded.”
“I’ve learned a lot the last few years. I’m just trying to implement that, playing the best I can,” Monheimer said. “[It’s the] last year I have and I want to end on a good note.”
Along the way Monheimer has developed a bond with Banahan, a fellow Kentuckian. The two forwards routinely start together and have developed great connection.
“We got that Kentucky chemistry,” Monheimer said. “Coming from the same place, we kind of connected already off that. Then it played into the soccer field. We kind of know each other’s movements off of each other.”
“Right when we came here, we felt like there was chemistry already,” added Banahan. “It’s helped during the season. We play off each other really well.”
Banahan isn’t the only one Monheimer has connected with.
Monheimer feels that as a senior it’s his responsibility to show some of the younger guys on the team the way like older players showed him.
“Culture is our biggest thing this year,” he said. “Setting a path for the rest of the guys coming in. As a senior, setting that culture is really important to me. Let alone, just playing well and stuff like that, but also the chemistry. Being able to play together, and win together, and lose together as a team. Just building that culture that is something to be proud of.”
“Tucker’s my dad,” joked Banahan from a few feet away.
As for Monheimer, like any senior, he wants to leave a lasting legacy.
However, he doesn’t have to wait until he graduates to see the impact he has on the team. His presence has already left a mark on the young team.
“I definitely look up to him. Four years from now, I would like to see myself fill his shoes,” Banahan said. “I know those are big shoes to fill, but he’s a really good player, and everyone in the locker room looks up to him.”