EASTHAM/CHATHAM – Spencer Rushnak has something of a secret. When he first started playing soccer as a kid, he didn't like it. Then, as a freshman at Nauset Regional High School, Rushnak watched the 2016 team cap off an undefeated season with a state championship victory, and decided he wanted to do that, too.
Fast forward a few years and Rushnak recently committed to continuing his career with the Roger Williams University Hawks.
Rushnak's soccer career started somewhere around the age of five with an area youth program, but it wasn't his favorite activity. It took until his freshman year at Nauset for the soccer bug to bite.
“Watching the varsity team win the state championship, when James McCully scored his first goal and ran over to the student section,” Rushnak said. “I thought, 'That's something I want to do.'”
The challenge Rushnak faced was that, at the time, he didn't exactly cut a soccer player's figure.
“I was small and skinny, not quite the body type of a soccer player, so I knew I'd have to work hard,” he said.
So he did, putting in the long hours necessary to sharpen his skills while aiming for a spot on the varsity roster.
“I just worked for two years,” Rushnak said. “When I started working harder at it, I started getting better at it, I just fell in love with playing good soccer.”
Rushnak missed the cut as a sophomore, but made it onto the varsity team as a junior, grateful that his hard work had paid off. That season, Rushnak became part of the winning legacy of the Warriors, who won their second state championship in 2018, defeating Arlington 3-0.
Nauset made a strong run during their 2019 season, once again going undefeated until the heartbreaking end of their season when the Warriors fell to Milton in the D2 South finals. While the school season had ended, Rushnak continued playing through year-round programs. He was also looking at schools.
“I started with the ones we did soccer summer camps at,” he said. “My top choice at the time was Wheaton because I loved how small the school was and know that I struggle academically if a teacher doesn't help me.”
Then he went on a tour of Roger Williams with head coach James Greenslit and fell in love with the school.
“The campus reminds me of Cape Cod, and I really liked the coach,” Rushnak said.
Coach Greenslit also came to several Nauset games to see Rushnak in action and, according to Rushnak, was “decently impressed.”
“When we went for our tour he offered me a spot on the team without having to try out, which was really nice,” Rushnak said. “He told me the main reason was that I worked so hard to get on varsity, and he wanted that same idea in his team.”
Rushnak said he was somewhat caught off guard at the offer.
“I was honestly surprised,” he said. “I'd known I was a good player and wanted to play in college, but never thought it would honestly happen. There was always a sense of doubt, but when it came I was so excited for the opportunity.”
With thoughts of his freshman year of high school in his mind, Rushnak said he's eager to get started with the Hawks since this time he plans on being ready to do the work necessary to improve.
“I'm excited about being able to be where I was freshman year, but knowing that I want to succeed from the beginning, and putting the work in from the beginning,” he said.
Rushnak said that what made Nauset's teams so successful was the strong bonds among players.
“You can't win if you don't have a solid team chemistry,” he said. “You have to pass, shoot, and score as a team. It's not just one person. You can have one standout player, but it always has to come from the whole team. That's a big part of it. Another big part of it is having a big team and being able to be close to everyone on that team. The chemistry and the camaraderie.”
It also helped that head coach John McCully worked the team hard.
“Coach McCully pushes us every day in ways that no other schools do,” Rushnak said. “He gives us so many opportunities doing summer camps and summer leagues, and it makes us really strong players, but it also teaches us how to work hard. That's a really big lesson I want to take to college.”
What will make his Roger Williams experience that much better is that Rushnak will be joined by teammates Jack Avellar and Sebastian Headrick, both of whom also recently signed on to play for RWU.
“I've known Jack since fourth grade. We were best friends until middle school, and once we got here, we got close again,” Rushnak said. “Sebastian came in the junior year that we won, and we just clicked. We just became really good friends. We'll help each other academically and push each other a lot on the field.”
Friends like Avellar and Headrick, Rushnak said, made the game fun.
“That made putting in the hard work and the late hours easier to do,” he said.
He also credits his family, parents Scott and Faith and sister Jamie, for their unwavering support.
Rushnak plans on majoring in secondary education, with the hope of returning to Cape Cod to teach high school.
“I want to be that one teacher where they're not necessarily excited to go to class, but not sad they have him,” he said, adding that he was inspired by the history teachers at Nauset. “The history teachers have been my favorite teachers at this school. I appreciate how unbiased they are and how they teach the right information.”
Rushnak would love to return to Nauset, but he'd settle for a job anywhere on the Cape.
“I want to be a high school teacher somewhere that has impacted me greatly that I want to give back to a little bit,” he said.
No matter where he ends up, he'll always carry with him the legacy of Nauset soccer.
“You get a really big sense of pride because you know that you worked really hard to maintain the reputation that people set before you,” Rushnak said. “And you always want to break the records they had. You know a lot of people hate you for it, but you know that there's a huge sense of passion and pride that paid off.”