When the UMW men’s soccer team takes the field for the NCAA Division III Final Four game today – Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022 – senior midfielder Gadsoni Abel knows fans will see something special.
The Mary Washington players understand exactly what Coach Jason Kilby wants from them, Abel said, and what they want from one another.
“There’s no better feeling than having the coach’s vision carried out and the team’s vision carried out,” he said. “We get it. Now let’s have fun with it.”
That optimistic spirit has seen Gadsoni through a lifetime of perseverance – beginning with boyhood days playing soccer in a Tanzanian refugee camp where his family lived after fleeing ethnic strife in their native Burundi. They arrived in the Fredericksburg area in 2008 and found a warm and welcoming community thanks largely to the Fredericksburg Baptist Church.
Church members supplied their basic needs with a vibrant faith community for parents Ndayihaya Abel and Ciza Estherine Abel. For Gadsoni and his brothers, there was academic support as well.
The third of six boys in the family, Gadsoni applied himself to extra homework, summer school, prayer and, of course, soccer. Older brothers Alexander Abel and Nehemia Abel ’20 set an example both scholastically and personally.
Both are completing graduate degrees now – Nehemia at Georgetown University, where he studies on a Payne Fellowship after earning a degree in marketing from UMW. The two eldest Abel brothers also founded an organization that provides academic and personal support for Burundian youths in the Fredericksburg area, and Gadsoni also volunteers with the group, called Ubumwe.
“I saw my brothers’ accomplishments and thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it,’” Gadsoni said. His three younger brothers are also following that path: Godfrey is a student and soccer player at Christopher Newport University, Yahaya is in high school and Larry is in middle school.
Though big brother Nehemia chose UMW for his undergraduate studies, there was no family pressure on Gadsoni to come here. In fact, he considered several Division I colleges whose recruiters were impressed by his academic drive and soccer prowess at Massaponax High School in Spotsylvania County.
But he said the culture of the Eagles team – its principles of inclusion for all players and service in the community – fit his commitment to servant leadership. Team members regularly volunteer to prepare meals for Micah Ministries, a downtown Fredericksburg organization supporting unhoused people.
“Everybody has a voice, on and off the field,” Gadsoni said of his team. They encourage one another academically as well, and Gadsoni is on track to graduate in spring 2023 with a degree in business and an eventual goal of starting a company specializing in East African coffee.
The Eagles ended the regular season nationally ranked, won the Coast-to-Coast conference championship to get an automatic NCAA tournament bid, then racked up three wins and a tie (advancing on penalty kicks) en route to today’s game against Williams College. It’s being played at 4 p.m. in Salem, Virginia, but fans can also gather at game time at The Underground on campus for a watch party.
It’s only the second time in 25 years that UMW men’s soccer has advanced to the NCAA semifinals. Gadsoni said the team has the chemistry and camaraderie to meet the challenge.
“Our mentality is one of the best I’ve ever seen of any team,” he said. “To be honest, the only outcome I see is winning the whole thing.”